The 10th annual Tribeca Film Festival is underway! In it’s decade anniversary, New York City’s preeminent independent film festival will host over 50 short films and almost 100 features! How am I supposed to see all of these movies in a week?! Well, I guess we’d better get started then. Let’s begin with Marie Losier’s The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye, a feature documentary about what may be rock and roll’s most fascinating romance (you heard me, Sid & Nancy!). It is the story of Genesis P- Orridge, performance artist and inventor of industrial rock music, and their love affair with artist and soul mate Lady Jaye. Find out more about this pandrogynous love story after the jump…
Marie Losier’s The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye could be a documentary focusing on any number of things; it could be a lesson on the origins of industrial rock music, an examination of the evolution of modern gender identity, or even a simple and, dare I say, comedic study of these outrageous personalities. But it is not–it is a love story. The story concerns itself almost exclusively with the romance of the titular artists Genesis P- Orridge and Lady Jaye, whose passionate and torrid affair fueled both of their ambitions to push the limits of what it means to be a couple in love. They both underwent a series of plastic surgeries to essentially become the same person, and create a more perfect union. Sadly, in 2007, Lady Jaye died suddenly of a seemingly mysterious and undiagnosed illness, leaving Genesis as a living work of art dedicated to her memory. Genesis even alters her speech to eliminate singular personal pronouns, now only referring to herself as “we.” Lady Jaye, though she has shed her mortal form, lives on in the minds of those whose lives she touched, and in the body of her lover, Genesis P-Orrige.
In spite of the fact that the film is seven years in the making, The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye is a very succinct little documentary. Yet in spite of the fact that it is only 70 minutes long, it manages to cover a number of subjects in an efficient and entertaining manner while maintaining its concentration on the romance at hand. Biographical segments illuminating Genesis and Jaye’s personal and artistic pasts are are certainly not glossed over, but it seems that only enough information is given to provide context to the circumstances that brought the pair together.
The film is narrated by Orridge, through audio clips taken from interview footage. Their voice is raspy and warm, high pitched and feminine, yet maintains an heir of gruff manliness. They talk briefly about their oppressive upbringing in 1950s and 60s England, and subsequent liberation in the art world by figures like William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin. The controversial and confrontational artwork that came as a result of this liberation ultimately landed Orridge among an artistic crowd where they would meet their love. The film’s segment on iconic music projects Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV is less an education on the history of the band so much as an explication of Genesis and Jaye’s relationship through that period. However, the film is almost entirely scored with music from those projects, so it is impossible to avoid walking out of the film with a stronger understanding of what their music does to listeners.
Observing Orridge’s evolution, both in archival footage and photos as well as their visage today, is a fascinating process. They are extremely glamourous at times, with styles and aesthetics reminiscent of Bette Davis, Joan Rivers, and even Melanie Griffiths (maybe that’s just their lips, though). Yet there’s a snide, sinister, punk side to them that is reminiscent of Malcolm McDowell. Their bulkiness often stands in stark contrast to Jaye’s tall and lithe figure, yet when they are together, the pair truly look like two pieces cut from the same whole. Though seeing this kind of relationship unfold may bring an initial confusion or discomfort to more conservative viewers, the underlying sense of pure and unconditional love brushes those feelings aside, and leaves a sense of true romance.
My biggest concern for this film is that it will immediately be co-opted as a “queer” film. This is not to disparage or denigrate gay cinema, it is simply to say that when a movie succeeds on its own cinematic merits beyond the simple idea of a GLBT relationship at the heart of a story, its complexities allow it to move beyond that elementary genre label, like the way Boys Don’t Cry or Brokeback Mountain are regarded as dramas, not necessarily “gay” films. Such a label is unavoidable for this movie, simply because the advanced views on gender identity are so central to the lives of the figures at hand, but its discussion of art and music alone, though not the focus of the film, help it to transcend to a place where it, much like the movie’s stars, can’t be identified by a singular label.