What becomes of the aging avant-garde pyro? He buys himself tits, apparently. In 1993, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, frontman for Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV, married nurse and singer Lady Jaye. Soon thereafter, following the windfall from a legal settlement, the two embarked on a series of surgical procedures that literalized the notion that marriage makes two into one. Merely having a deep, meaningful connection wasn’t enough: they had to look like one another—or as like one another as possible, given Genesis was both 20 years Jaye’s senior and considerably girthier. Some facial reconstruction and two boob jobs later, and the pair had melded into near-doppelgangers—a single dye-blonde “pandrogynous being,” although only one of them still had to habitually put razor to face stubble.
This fit of living performance art was cut short in 2007 with Jaye’s untimely death, and her passing leaves a fascinating conceptual hole in The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye. Less an informational doc than an allusive portrait, it’s comprised entirely of expertly diced-up 16mm home movies recorded without sound while the surviving half narrates. But the film’s shocking-to-most hook takes a backseat, as does Jaye herself. Instead, Genesis largely talks about himself and his career, periodically mentioning humanizing details, like how his kids responded to the surgeries by asking why the money wasn’t spent on buying them new cars.
The director, Marie Losier, has a history of making short films with Guy Maddin and the Kuchar Brothers, making her uniquely qualified to “get” Genesis’ and Lady Jane’s world. But she doesn’t operate as a third party; instead of making it accessible to outsiders, she goes deeper inside. Rather than a block of exposition, Ballad, as per the title, operates as an enveloping experience, a roll-around in the intimate space of two people who’ve created their own reality. Losier’s approach is nonjudgmental as well as unsentimental, and rather than simply relate this crazy story, she creates her own work of art; turn off the sound and the film’s just as striking. She treats the outlandish as near-normal, making it seem like expressing love through mutual surgical procedures is the most obviously romantic act one could do. ■