As a founding member of Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV, Genesis P-Orridge’s influence upon industrial culture and music is beyond dispute. A lifelong provocateur, the artist’s body of work has explored prostitution, transgender, the occult, and lots of other fun stuff. Needless to say, I have followed his career quite closely. At the age of 14, I bought Psychic TV’s “Dreams Less Sweet” LP and rendered the album unlistenable after playing it to death on my turntable over the next 25 years. I still have the record somewhere in my collection though it sounds like Genesis is frying an omelette in the studio for most of Side B.
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.
After a brisk overview of P-Orridge’s unhappy childhood, friendships with Burroughs and Gysin, and controversial art career, the picture zeroes in on its principal subject: the epic love affair between Genesis and Lady Jaye. “Well, you know how it is,” explains P-Orridge “You fall in love madly with someone and there’s this moment well you just want consume each other and not be individuals anymore. We wanted to pursue that. Not just talk about it. But live it.” In order to “live it,” Lady Jaye and Genesis underwent extensive plastic surgery to look more and more like each other with the intention of merging into one single “pandrogynous” being.
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.
Knowing a bit more than the average bear about Genesis and his milieu, the skeptic in me could fault this film for lack of objectivity. Some pretty big parts of his life like an ex-wife and two kids receive scant attention. More generally, Losier’s previous film portraits of Tony Conrad, Brothers Kuchar, and others have less to do with documentary filmmaking than the ancient art of the ode or panegyric. This is an observation and not a criticism.
(Disclosure: I distributed Marie Losier’s film “Manuelle Labor” on DVD a couple years ago. By coincidence, we ended up on the same Paris-New York flight last week but were too exhausted to discuss anything of substance).