He grew up misunderstood, beat up every day at school, and quickly nurtured his flamboyant freak credentials (this is the glam era) in the realms of music, shock value, and cross-dressing. She left home at 14, went to Alphabet City, put herself through med school, created performance art that questioned gender roles and the body’s limits, eventually becoming a nurse. They first met when he was crashing at a friend’s dungeon in the East Village.
They fell in love, and were swept up by this thing love does to us sometimes: it makes one want to consume the other, to fuse, to become a mirror to the other. Genesis P-Orridge and Jacqueline Breyer took this to heart. They didn’t want to part, ever. They wore each other’s clothes, got the same haircut and, despite their notable physical differences (his bulldog torso versus her pixie figure, a 20-year age gap), they eventually began their most ambitious project, one involving arduous surgeries, including matching breast implants, to make themselves resemble each other as much as possible. Can you imagine the luck? To find someone who not only shares your taste in fashion and art but also is willing to join you on the long, uncharted route to surgical symbiosis? Marie Losier’s The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye is a portrait of this singular love story.
Losier’s approach is hermetically sealed, told very much from the inside, in certain ways willfully naïve, and something like the opposite of journalism. There’s no commentary, no talking heads, just P-Orridge’s narration over a montage of home movies, archival footage and fragments of musical performance. I think the approach works very well, prizing intimacy over critical assessment. Why not? There’s a great story there, a forced identification with what is for most an alien lifestyle choice, and Losier crafts a very specific, oddly charming aesthetic experience from her material to boot, blending voice and image into a twinkly memory stream. But I would suggest that the film’s one major flaw is its lack of balance between its two subjects, its overwhelming focus on P-Orridge (who seems to have a knack for making himself the focus in most situations). I can’t help but think the ideal Ballad would be one in which the individual narrative of one its titular characters shifts seamlessly into the other before blurring the two, division leading to fusion. Cinema can splice reality like no other medium, and Losier’s approach, bold and precise as it is, only lacks this one great conceptual push, a way of having her project perfectly align with that of her subjects.