When Genesis Breyer P-Orridge begins playing a keyboard with her ass cheeks, it becomes apparent this is not your typical rock doc. And when the camera follows P-Orridge and Lady Jaye into the doctor's office to witness the Magic Marker prep work for impending pandrogynous plastic surgery, it gets surreal. What's more disquieting? This film is neither about music nor the trans-/pangender experience.
It's a love story – a delicate and unnerving love story.
Director Marie Losier gained penetrating access into the lives of industrial music godhead Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and wife Lady Jaye Breyer. The three became very close. "I became part of the family," says 38-year-old Losier of the thin line danced between filmmaker and friend. "They opened their door completely. I was invited to everything – birthdays, daily life, personal life, family. I was part of it all."
This is, it occurs to Losier, her directorial m.o. "I never make films about people [whose] work I know well. I know them as friends," she says of films with avant-artists Tony Conrad, Guy Maddin, and the Kuchar brothers. "Just like the film with Tony [2008 short "Tony Conrad: DreaMinimalist"], we became close. It's not like I knew all of his work, his music, his films. Same with Gen. I wasn't his fan. Never have been. Don't want to be.
"I wanted to make something with music," Losier says, "but realized I didn't want to make a documentary with talking heads and interviews."
Instead, what Losier accomplished is a deeply affectionate, almost confidential confessional, featuring what are essentially high-end home movies of life with P-Orridge and Lady Jaye cooking, lounging, creating, loving – shot silently on one Bolex beast. Sound was recorded concurrently (and later overlaid), and P-Orridge's decades-deep arsenal of Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV, et al., ditties thrum along. And for someone who's not a fan of P-Orridge's sonorous output, Losier sure knows her way around the knobs, deftly pairing music with perfect patchwork visuals.
Losier evokes totally different moods, for instance, with the same song. In the first pastiche, the driving Sixties snare of PTV3's "BB" finds a silly, charmingly senior P-Orridge atop a bed, jumping and posing like a rock star kid in a fresh hotel room. Later, the same song blankets her drumming against a brick wall, cutting to her addressing the lens with piercing raccoon-lined eyes while a Velvet Underground-y bass descent lilts over thoughts about musical influences. Sped-up and slowed-down PTV tour footage creates a tension that only makes sense after the next segment of the film begins.
Throughout the film, the 1960s Cut-Up culture pioneered by William Burroughs and Brion Gysin is more than hat-tipped. Recombinant art emerges as more than filmic device. In the world of P-Orridge and Lady Jaye and their crafty filmmaker friend, it's the point: As the Cut-Ups informed Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV, their influence on the P-Orridge and Lady Jaye's contemporary worldview goes way beyond clever art collages, slicing through their very lives. And while the transgender nature of their beings is endemic, to the film's storyline it is merely incidental. The couple's pandrogyny philosophy is lived – not just through dress and manner, but through their love and at the tip of a surgeon's scalpel. Likewise, Losier's devotion to the couple becomes its own odd ghost of a character.
And here is where Ballad is clearly a love story within a love story. (The film's intent is very clear in its title.) Losier manages to become such an integral thread in the fabric of their lives that her presence is never intrusive. Her care and adoration are marbled throughout. She, too, makes love in this mystical triad, by framing, shooting, assembling, and curating the parts of their lives, then folding them into one long seam of vital, visual poetry.
"They liked me and said: 'Okay, you're the person we've been waiting for, for a really long time. You're the one,'" Losier remembers of their first meeting, when they invited her to document their lives.
"It was very intimate."
The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye: Friday, March 18, 9pm, Alamo Ritz 1
Copyright © 2021 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.