Genesis Breyer P-Orridge’s radical thought and personal fanaticism is matched only by the zeal of (to use a gender neutral pronoun) ‘their‘ hardcore fans. While here @ aqnb wouldn’t call ourselves ‘fans’ so much as ‘fascinated’, we took it upon ourselves to make the trip down to Brighton Film Festival to witness a highly anticipated screening of The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye. Since winning the Teddy Award at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, experimental film maker Marie Losier’s part biography, part work of art follows the similarly motley approach to live art and living of the famous provocateur and his wife Lady Jaye. Their extreme Pandrogyne experiment, was an attempt to create a perfect ‘third being’ through plastic surgery, before Lady Jaye sadly passed away from stomach cancer in 2009.
As the best-known and most controversial artist to spring from the COUM Transmissions collective of the early 70s, as well as industrial pioneers Throbbing Gristle, P-Orridge’s relationship with the dominatrix, qualified nurse and musician is, surprisingly, the stuff of fairy tales. ‘Unique’ is beyond an understatement when describing the partnership, begun on the S&M scene in New York City and blooming into a grand romance. In the film it is Genesis who plays narrator for this surrealist love story, as he explains that rather than having children he and Lady Jaye decided to become one in a far more literal manner. Taking the Dadaist ‘exquisite corpse’ concept to new levels by applying it to their very own bodies, the couple went through some extreme body modification, including breast implants and nose jobs, continuing Genesis’ lifelong preoccupation with Brion Gysin and William S. Burrough’s literary cut-up technique most clearly exposited in their 1978 book The Third Mind.
The Ballad… follows a fragmented and dreamlike story line that elucidates the nature of Genesis and Lady Jaye’s relationship as well as their all-consuming art practice. It is a surprisingly personal insight, that is as much Losier’s story –who spent three years following, befriending, comforting her subjects –as it is theirs. That hazy line across media and personal realities extends into clips of Losier’s own footage being projected at Psychic TV performances featured in the film, while the camera’s gaze is a highly privileged one; Losier is taken on tour with the band, a guest at their barbecues. The film covers all the signposts in Genesis’ impressive career, from his introduction to global infamy when labelled “wreckers of civilisation” with the COUM Transmissions collective in the 70s to his first meeting with his personal hero Gysin. The artist always kept a packet of Cadbury Chocolate Fingers at home should Genesis drop by –his favourite.
There’s a warmth and a sense of humour that pervades The Ballad… both stylistically and content-wise; Genesis figures out “what to do with all this shit” as he plays hide-and-seek in his basement archive of a life’s work, he recounts one of his last conversations with Lady Jaye about his aversion to being remembered as “the tampon man” in his obituary. Music in the film is hardly forgotten either, with the sound design –comprising all original music from Genesis and Lady Jaye’s various projects –is the film’s greatest triumph. In an interview Losier says that, with their being 15 layers of sound, including diegetic music, she spent two years editing and constructing the film’s overall sound scape. What she’s ended up with is a spellbinding tribute to one of our most original living artists, as well as an ode to the power of love as all-conquering.