Title: The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye
Director: Marie Losier
An outre nonfiction offering from director Marie Losier, this lively and most assuredly provocative document details — in arty, roundabout fashion — the strange love affair between an aging proto-punk performance artist and his younger muse, as they undergo a series of plastic surgeries to more closely resemble one another. A brisk watch at just over 70 minutes, “The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye” evinces a loose sense of engagement just based on subject matter alone, but it unfortunately rather pathologically buries its lede regarding the abuse and trauma suffered by its subjects, thereby offering up an inch-deep exploration of its wild and supposedly liberated behaviors.
Fresh off the festival circuit, where it played at the Tribeca, SXSW and Berlin Film Festivals, “The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye” unfolds under a waterfall of period piece footage and re-enactments. Like paper-mache, Losier lays aural strips of present-day interviews over red-edged home video featuring smooches galore from the space-oddity lovers. The founder of industrial/experimental groups COUM Transmissions, Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV, Genesis P-Orridge comes across as a slightly saner G.G. Allin, with tampon-and-urine shenanigans substituted in for fecal hijinks. In from Los Angeles and crashing at a friend’s New York BDSM dungeon one night, he meets and falls for Lady Jaye, nee Jacqueline Breyer, a lithe and much younger street urchin and part-time dominatrix who ran away to Alphabet City when only 14 years of age. They strike up a romance, get married, and for 15 years live as inseperable collaborators.
Deciding not to have kids (Genesis already had two children from a previous relationship), the pair enter into an art project dubbed “Creating the Pandrogyne,” an attempt to deconstruct two individual identities through the melding and creation of an invisible third. To this end, beginning in 2000, Genesis begins a series of sex reassignment surgeries; a couple years later, for Valentine’s Day, they each got identical boob jobs. Lady Jaye, too, would have a nose job and reconstruction of her jawline, to more closely resemble her lover. Tragically, though, their lives together would be cut short.
While on the surface it would bear a passing similarity to “Renee,” the HBO Films documentary which detailed the story of Richard Raskind, a skirt-chasing Ivy League scholar-athlete and ophthalmologist who in the late 1970s, after two decades of sexual confusion, underwent gender assignment surgery and took up a career in women’s tennis under the name Renee Richards, Losier’s “Ballad” is actually more of a piece with “Chris & Don: A Love Story” and Jeff Feuerzeig’s melancholic “The Devil and Daniel Johnston.” The former movie details a cross-generational gay love affair between Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy, while the latter is about the same-named troubled American folk artist, beset with bipolar disorder, manic depression and schizophrenia. While those issues of mental instability are never discussed in front-and-center fashion in “Ballad,” they’re never quite far from the front burner.
And therein lies the rub. Whatever one thinks or makes of the actions of its subjects, “Ballad” has such an outlandish love story at its core that it’s a shame Losier doesn’t devote more time really digging down into the marrow of that mad, blind-to-the-world connection. The same goes for its offscreen trauma. Lip service is paid, but much is left (willfully) unexplored, as with Genesis’ children or Lady Jaye’s traumatic past. Losier’s gift with dressed-up artifice is considerable, but by failing to glue Genesis down in a chair and coax out some of the darker (individual and shared) memories, the movie remains this fanciful, emotionally hollow curio — something extravagant and colorful, but definitely held at a remove. Genesis and Lady Jaye remain unknowable, and not merely because of some of their radical lifestyle choices.
Written by: Brent Simon