Wednesday Editor’s Pick: The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye (2011)

by on February 8, 2012Posted in: Editor's Pick


Playing Wed Feb 15 at 7:00 at French Institute Alliance Française [Program & Tix]
*Q&A with filmmaker Marie Losier
 

Marie Losier, film programmer for the French Institute Alliance Francaise, also has a thriving career as an experimental and documentary filmmaker. She brings her well-traveled festival favorite (Tribeca, SXSW, BAMcinemaFest, Winner of the Berlin International Film Festival Teddy Award for Best Documentary) back to homebase, for an event free to all FIAF members.
 

Richard Brody for The New Yorker:

In the early nineties, the industrial-rock pioneer Genesis P-Orridge, of the bands Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV, came to New York, where he met and married a young dominatrix who called herself Lady Jaye. Their romantic and artistic partnership is depicted—tenderly, unstintingly, and in surprisingly intimate detail—by the director Marie Losier, who spent plenty of time in their company and unfurls the remarkable range of their activity, in public and in private. They played music together, but their key project—which they named “Pandrogeny”—involved extensive plastic surgery that made the couple resemble each other (P-Orridge even got breast implants). The dual portrait, using home movies, archival footage, Losier’s own ecstatic images, plenty of the bands’ music, and extensive interviews with P-Orridge (Lady Jaye died in 2007), brings some amazing stories to light, such as the older artist’s public art scandals of the mid-seventies and his crucial association with William Burroughs and Brion Gysin. P-Orridge is revealed as an innate artist who inflects and illuminates every aspect of existence, high and low, humble and exalted, with a singular sensibility; Losier’s film captures the poignant paradoxes, the ecstasies and burdens, of the transformation of life into art.

 

Losier directs P-Orridge in the Psychic TV music video “Have Mercy” (2009):

 

David Cairns for MUBI:

Rather than making you think how strange the central duo are/were (Lady Jaye died, or “dropped her body”, in 2007), the film really makes you think how strange all couples are, pairs of more or less damaged individuals (as all individuals are damaged) who have managed to align their broken edges and form some kind of mutant whole.
 
Using archive film and interviews, more or less entirely without sync sound, Losier, a specialist in profiling avant-garde musicians, artists and filmmakers, creates a colorful and frenetic object that nicely encapsulates P-Orridge’s philosophy that “Everything is raw material.” The central characters are an engaging and sweet pair with considerable screen magnetism (her nose job is perhaps more aesthetically pleasing than his breast implants), and P-Orridge’s blissed-out smile and pixillated gaze have genuine comic charm.

 

 

Richard Porton for Cineaste:

Marie Losier’s debut feature, The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye, is a similarly fearless assult on documentary conventions. If Barnard is intent on critiquing the cliches of talking-head documentaries and the shibboleths of ‘realism,’ Losier gently inverts stale documentary platitudes by invoking a playful avant-garde tradition–not for sure the minimalist avant-garde of Stan Brakhage or Nathaniel Dorsky but the ribald, playful strain of experimentalism associated with figures such as the Kuchar Brothers and Guy Maddin. Losier’s obliviousness to the standard reflexes of documentary portraiture is her greatest strength as a filmmaker. Like Losier’s short films on Richard Foreman and Tony Conrad, Ballad is literally a participatory documentary sincethe filmmaker does not feign detachment but instead constantly demonstrates her affection for her subjects by creating amusing dreamscapes that enhance the homemade mise-en-scene. In Tony Conrad DreaMinimalist, for example, the diminutive filmmaker, dressed in an inflatable pumpkin suit, bounces around on a bed with Tony Conrad, courageously decked out in a demure pink negligee. In the new film, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge explains her musical process while dressed in a fanciful bird costume.

 

Instead of using talking-head experts to illuminate the life of Genesis and her paramour Lady Jaye, a collage esthetic gradually unravels the complex saga of a transgender rock star and performance artist whose penchant for constant reinvention is perfectly suited to the filmmaker’s fondness for whimsical improvisation. Born Neil Andrew Megson, P-Orridge is probably best known s the driving force in two bands–Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV–that, as the press kit puts it, bridged “punk and post-punk,” as well as the founder of COUM Transmissions, a performance art group whose sexually explicit interventions scandalized the British tabloid press during the Seventies–a Tory MP unwittingly immortalized the collective by denouncing them as “wreckers of civilization.” Although these career highlights are duly noted in Ballad, the love affair between P-Orridge and Lady Jaye, the former nurse and dominatrix she met in New York’s East Village, takes precedence over mundane biographical bullet points in Losier’s nonlinear chronicle. A panoply of styles evoke P-Orridge and the late Lady Jaye’s romantic union–a word that takes on literal, as well as the usual figurative, associations as the film progresses: Felliniesque sequences featuring Genesis wearing fashions that seem culled from a surrealist thrift shop, stop-motion interludes in which her musical and biographical high points are captured through rapid glimpses at album covers and photographs, artfully integrated archival footage, and stream-of-consciousness voice-over. William Burroughs and Brion Gysin are two of P-Orridge’s cultural heroes. Since she venerates Burroughs and Gysin’s ‘cut-up method,’ a fictional technique indebted to collage and the vicissitudes of chance, it’s not accidental that the film’s impish artisanal esthetic wryly corresponds to her mentors’ infatuation with artistic foraging.

 

 

Steve Dollar for The Wall Street Journal:

The latest in a series of artist portraits by Brooklyn filmmaker Marie Losier, this kaleidoscopic documentary explores the (sur)reality of the English musician, performance artist and provocateur Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and his companion of 15 years, the late Lady Jaye Breyer. When Lady Jane died in 2007, she was part of an ongoing collaboration with her mate to become a single “pandrogynous” entity. The conceptual project involved a lot of plastic surgery (including breast implants for the Psychic TV singer). But Ms. Losier is more focused on spiritual and philosophical questions sparked by the relationship, while also presenting a concise history of avant-garde British rock music as seen through the eyes of Mr. P-Orridge— perhaps its most charmingly outre persona.

 
Dollar also wrote a more in-depth profile of the film and its subject you can read here.

 

Noel Lawrence for Film Threat:

Marie Losier’s Ballad of Genesis of Lady Jaye is a film portrait of Genesis P-Orridge and his companion Lady Jaye. It is neither a documentary nor a rockumentary. Rather, it is a love story and a touching one. For music nerds hoping to glean minor revelations about Throbbing Gristle, the film probably will not satisfy at a modest running time of 72 minutes. It makes an interesting counterpoint to Larry Wessel’s “Iconoclast,” a sprawling four-hour documentary that chronicles everything you ever will want to know about Boyd Rice, another prominent member from the Industrial Music Hall of Fame. Wessel’s film is equally uncompromising in form though its deviates from the VH1 norm by digression and inclusion as opposed to Losier’s sense of poetic economy.

 

As unconventional as this story might look on paper, the strength of Losier’s film lies in its ability to humanize its subjects. In the hands of a Nick Broomfield, this picture would have become just another sensationalistic freak show at the bottom of your Netflix cue. Though you may not want to invite Genesis to Thanksgiving dinner at your grandparents’ home in Wichita, one cannot help but empathize with the basic emotions of love and loss that underlie his story.

 

 

Mark Asch interviews Losier for The L Magazine:

You use some rudimentary experimental techniques—mixing stocks and frame speed, say—reminiscent of New York’s underground cinematic history. You’ve also made short films with Tony Conrad, the Kuchars, etc.; how do you see your work, here and elsewhere, in relation to this tradition? How do you apply this aesthetic sensibility in a documentary such as this one, where there’s also an expository imperative?
I have to say I never learned how to make films, I come from literature and painting, so I just made my first film with a Bolex someone gave me as a gift and I learned how to load film and shoot my first with the wonderful and wonderfully clumsy Mike Kuchar… So that really helped not worrying much about my lack of technique and knowledge, and just play. I had already been in the circle of the “underground” world for a while, while working for Richard Foreman, programming films at Robert Beck, being around those people I really loved. So it was quite natural to me to be there and participate, yet not having a preconceived idea at all. Yet at the same time because I have no lineage in it, it took a long long time for me to show work and have a place there… and I’m still not showing much in NYC actually. Coming from loving films and classical cinema and being a painter, making experimental films was very natural and logical transition to me.
 
The film portraits I made were all based on encounters and friendships. I never go make a film with an idea that I want to make a film about such and such artist, it would not work.
 
As for the style, it is the same style for the shorts and the feature, the way I film, the way I edit and shoot alone so without synch sound, make costumes, make a lot of tableau like Melies to set the characters in them… and what is surprising is that Genesis’s work and “cut up” project with Lady Jaye, is very close to the manner I myself make films, collaging, using different formats, raw and quick editing… so aesthetically the sensibility was one of the closest to my style.

 

 

Steve Dalachinsky for The Brooklyn Rail:

At the heart of the film, which has garnered awards at film festivals in Lisbon and Berlin, is their amazing love story and how, to have Lady Jaye with him/her always in body and spirit after her sad demise at way too early an age, Genesis has kept their idea of the “pandrogyne” project alive by continually altering his/her body. Through extensive operations Genesis and Jaye (Jackie Breyer) took on each other’s male/female characteristics and physical attributes through what Breyer P-Orridge describes as a real-life version of Gysin and Burroughs’s cut-up methods. Hence the title of this 72-minute film, The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye. For folks who love Genesis, this almost sci-fi love story is beyond a treat. He proudly shows his/her now female breasts in the film, and explains that this is the only way in the long run humanity can survive. Here is where I part ways with him/her, though I have heard Breyer P-Orridge talk about art, philosophy, W.B., and B.G. extensively, and found him/her brilliant. Another problem is, whereas a layman might walk away from the Steve Reich film with a bit of understanding of the music, in GBPO’s case if one did not know this complex history they might just not get it at all. Nevertheless, I strongly recommend this quasi-experimental bio. Let’s hope it finds a distributor even if it be in limited distribution.

 

In an interview with Indiewire, Losier describes the genesis (ha!) of the project:

My story with Genesis P-Orridge begins three years ago with a typically miraculous New York City coincidence. I had just seen Genesis perform with her band Thee Majesty at the Knitting Factory, along with Alan Vega, who gave a memorably awful performance by fondling his balls and grunting sex to an ‘80s beat. Genesis, on the other hand, was pure enlightenment to me. Chanting half-sung, half-spoken lyrics of deep poetic meaning in a primal – at times scary – voice, she somehow maintained an aura of delicacy and softness, as her giant breasts floated, half naked above the crowd. I was completely hypnotized by her, never having seen anything like her, and I knew then that I had to find a way to meet her and film her.

 

A week later, New York City took care of it. I was at a gallery opening in Soho, one of those sardine-can spaces where you can barely walk and breathe. I got pressed into a corner and stepped on someone’s toes. I turned to apologize and there she was, talking with Bjork and smiling, her golden teeth glittering in my eyes. We spoke only briefly, but something special passed between us and she gave me her email and asked me about my films. So I guess you can say that fate – or clumsiness – stepped in and opened a very special door of friendship and filmmaking.

 

Another interview with Losier at the New York Times Arts blog.

 

 

 

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