Genesis Breyer P-Orridge has led a life that's been interesting in all aspects. Born Neil Megson, Genesis was a pioneer of industrial and avant garde music, having led both Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV. Genesis was friends with numerous cultural icons, including William S. Burroughs and artist Brion Gysin, both of whom had popularized the cut-up technique which became key for Genesis's artistic and personal philosophy.
Years ago, Genesis met an artist and performer in New York named Lady Jaye (born Jacqueline Breyer). The two fell madly in love and married, eventually starting a pandrogyne project. The couple underwent a number of plastic surgeries to resemble each other, which included facial surgeries and breast implants. Lady Jaye died tragically in 2007 at the age of 38. The pair had been together for almost 15 years.
It's this relationship that's at the center of the documentary The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye. The work of first-time feature director Marie Losier, she eschewed the talking head style of most documentaries. The result is a collage that feels like a blend of home movie, tribute, and love letter. I had an opportunity to sit down with both Marie and Genesis to discuss the film. Be sure to check out our review tomorrow.
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I didn't quite know what to expect when meeting Genesis in person. On first glace, Genesis can seem intimidating: gold teeth, the striking pandrogynous appearance, a whole history in cult art and the music underground.
Burroughs said of her: "[Genesis] is the only person I've ever met who I had hero-worshipped, who turned out exactly as I'd expected him to be, and everything I'd hoped him to be. Which was incredible. Inhumanly intelligent." A great assessment, but he left out kind. Maybe having been a friend for a while, the kindness went without saying.
Both Marie and Genesis were warm people in person. More than that, though, they were completely genuine and spoke with the familiarity and candor that only friends have. Marie has a voice that's equal parts humility and smarts, and there's a smile in her eyes that's as noticeable as her French accent. Genesis is so comfortable with herself, and her voice had an oddly soothing, even motherly, quality.
I began the interview with Marie because Genesis had to step out of the room for a brief second. I could have spoken to them for much longer, but I only had a few minutes. Fitting, maybe, that I began asking about how the duo first met back in 2003.
When you met Genesis for the first time at that SoHo art show, do you remember what the first conversation was like?
Marie Losier: It was very much three minutes. I was just like, "Oh, hi, I saw you yesterday at the Knitting Factory and I was so touched by your poetry and your performance... and I'm sorry I stepped on your foot." [laughs] And she smiled and she looked at me very kindly and then said, "What do you do?" I said that I make films -- short films, ones that are experimental. She smiled again and said, "Hmmm... can you write to me?" and she gave me her card. That was basically it. [laughs]
Seems like a very brief encounter.
M: But very touching. There's something going on between the gates.
[Genesis enters the room]
Genesis Breyer P-Orridge: Hello, how are you?
Fine, thanks. I was just talking to Marie about your first meeting at that gallery. Do you remember anything specific about it?
G: I believe we were talking to Bjork. [Editor's note: Genesis uses "we" to refer to herself as a tribute to her love for Lady Jaye.] We've known Bjork since she was 16. Her first band, KUKL, supported Psychic TV in Reykjavik in 1983. And we liked her so much that we said, "We're putting together a big event in London later this year called 'A Fabulous Feast of Flowering Light,' and if you can get to London, you can play there." And they did, and they got a record deal through that gig. So, you know, we've been friends. They changed their name to the Sugarcubes, of course, as you probably know. So my children, Caresse and Genesse, both love Bjork, and about two years ago they were saying, "We want to see Bjork at the Oakland Coliseum, but all the tickets have gone. Could you possibly speak to Bjork, papa, and get tickets?" [Editor's note: Caresse and Genesse are Genesis's daughters from a previous marriage.] We said, "Well, don't know, but we'll try." And Bjork, bless her, gave them VIP tickets straight away."
Oh, that's brilliant!
G: They were in the front row, right in the middle, yeah. They were thrilled with that, and they still thank me for that every so often.
Bjork's a great performer to see as well.
G: Yeah, she's great. A really interesting artist... So, yeah, that's who we were speaking to when this woman interrupted us.
G: However, instinct being what it is -- through cut-ups and so on we've kind of learned to trust instinct, or what people called random chance -- and somehow, I ended up giving her my card and saying, "Get in touch." I guess you said that you made films, right?
G: And Lady Jaye, about a week or so before, said, "We need someone who makes films to document this process of pandrogeny and our lives. We need to find someone. You know, like how Warhol used to film everybody -- we need someone like Andy Warhol." We got Marie. [laughs]
G: And we never saw her films beforehand.
G: Not a single piece of film.
M: And I didn't know anything about Genesis.
G: She'd never heard of us. It was perfect, because that meant that there were no preconceptions.
Marie, in one of your interviews, you mentioned how you were sort of tested to see if you were the right person to do this. Could you explain what that process was like.
M: That just meant that when I met with Jaye and Gen they said, "You're the one -- come on tour with us." So, for me it was a big test to jump in a bus with a whole rock band -- their rhythm, their being, and their kind of family -- and film them. That was the test: am I able to capture something, am I able to feel comfortable, how can I just film and be myself.
G: Of course, even a 10 day -- was it a 10 day tour?
G: I mean, you go to sleep at 4:00 in the morning, you get up at 7:00, you don't get good food. It's a lot of stress, and she coped brilliantly with it and fit in so well that within a couple days we all forgot that she was filming.
I was going to ask about that. Gen, did it feel weird to be filmed at first but then you eased into it? And Marie, was it weird filming Genesis and following everyone around?
G: We got really comfortable in a couple of days. Everyone just went, "That's Marie, she's the one who films. You know, that's Eddie, he's the drummer. That's Alice, she plays the bass. And there's Marie." She became part of the family.
M: And even Eddie -- who never had anyone film him, and he was very uncomfortable -- very quickly he just played with me, and he was so joyous. I enjoyed even more the act of filming, because the band was just like, "Marie! *poke*" And then it became this thing. It was a really enjoyable way of fitting in.
G: A lot of people don't realize how much fun that we actually had, but you get to see us in the dressing rooms and everything messing around all the time. So we tried -- well, we didn't even try -- we just naturally stayed happy and playful. Otherwise you'd go crazy, and that's not our way.
There was a feeling like I was watching home movies or just watching friends get along and sort of play with each other on camera.
G: That's because it's truly intimate. There were no restrictions at all on what Marie filmed. That's the way we work with everything: we do it, we do it 100%. And so, once you're a friend, it's not even an issue. That's just Marie, our friend who happens to film things. It was very easy.
M: There's no crew, there's no other persons.
G: There's no lighting, no boom mics.
M: There's this weird old machine that doesn't record sound at the same time. [Editor's note: Marie shot a lot of footage using a Bolex.] I'd feel self-conscious if there was someone working with me because I'm used to just being me and doing my stuff in a weird way. I don't think twice about it. But if there was someone else to record or something, I think there would be a very different approach.
G: So there was no intrusion at all.
Marie, when you were creating those scene recreations or those set pieces where Gen dresses up, how did you approach her about those sequences?
M: I didn't think twice because I've done it for a long time and it's such a beautiful way for me to think of characters -- to match their stories so that it becomes imagination. It becomes a painting in a way. [Gen] does collage, Jaye was writing, it was very much part of us anyway. To me it's a part of my life, so I didn't think twice. I was like, "Oh Gen, could you come down? I set up this thing and you have to put this dress on top of here and you're a bird." As ridiculous as this could be, if I was thinking twice, then I would never do this. There's this game that goes between two people that just becomes part of a natural set up, and it's fun.
G: It's an act of trust. There were times when we said, "Huh, really? You want me to wear that? Wha? Why?"
G: Then we'd go, "Oh well, it's Marie. She knows what she's doing." Then we would just surrender to it. And once we saw some of the rough cuts -- sort of 20-miunte sections or so -- we realized how it worked. And then, in fact, it really illuminates and enlivens the entire movie. It would be a terrible loss to take it out. It's Marie. That's the way Marie conveys certain information. Film, the way Marie uses it, is very much a non-verbal portrait. There's a lot of it that can't be spoken, so she finds ways to emphasize what she sees with symbols, vignettes, and even just from where she stands with the camera. The film is her speaking about what she sees, not just showing you what she sees.
In the production notes it said you had about 34 hours of footage. How did you mold the film? How did you carve it down?
M: In eight months. Going crazy. [laughs] It's like a giant collage or a puzzle. Do I have a story? Can I tell a story? I've never made a feature. I had no preconceived idea about the timing of the film, the length of the film, and I didn't mind. It's not like I was making a product. I really just said, "Okay, let's see if I can build this story that I feel." And then it took a really long time to process the imagery, make color patterns for each kind of emotion, move them around on little boards the wall.
M: Post-its. You know, the reds were love, the green were like silly places. So then that became a kind off painting or collage, and that's how I moved blocks of imagery. Then I started to sync them with sound, because I can't edit just images. For me, the rhythm goes with the motion of the film and the music and the image. So I need [Jaye's] voice and Gen's voice and music to really create the patterns. It's all done that way, very much instinctively.
G: Glad it wasn't me. [laughs]
How'd you feel about the film when you first saw it?
M: She cried.
G: Yeah. Well, you see, it was hard to watch and sort of relive losing Jaye. I mean, in the year that the film was finished, our dog that's in the film died of cancer. And we didn't have Jaye's income, so we lost the house.
G: So, we look at it and we see the dog that's not there, Jaye's that's not there, the house that's not there. There's a tremendous recollection of loss every time we watch the film. Having said that, even though we often cry when we watch it, we wouldn't change anything because the most perfect part of it is that we have a memorial to Lady Jaye. And we get the chance to tell thousands of people how special she was. That makes it all worthwhile.
Marie, were conscious about Gen's feelings when the final film was completed? Were you maybe nervous or worried?
M: I wasn't nervous, actually. It's more like I cared so much about them and spent so much time on the film for so many years. I felt so much while editing it and I cried too. I felt so close to the emotion that I felt it was right. Then there's things to move around as always, you know. There are things that could make it perfect. But I was wanting to share, and I was hoping that [Gen] would feel like me. She did. But I wasn't thinking, "*gasp* What if Gen hates it?" That's not in my personality. It more like "I feel really attached to it, and I hope [Gen does] too." And it was moving to see Gen sitting there, holding my hand when Caresse and Genesse would come on screen, and then smile, and then laugh at some point, or look puzzled, and then cry. There was a wide range of emotion.
Unfortunately I have just a minute left. What are your feelings about love having lived the movie and having loved so strongly and so intimately?
G: People have come up after screenings and several have said, "Now that we've seen your film, we realize that we've held back in relationships, and that we've really missed out on something. And now we know that we should just completely surrender to love and not be afraid." And that seems to be a lesson that a lot of people have taken away: they should never be afraid of unconditional love. That, in fact, no matter what the pain, no matter what the loss, no matter what the confusion, it's always better to give yourself 100% than to hold back and have to always regret that. That's the best part of the whole thing. It's not just a document of what we believe to have felt, but it's actually touching people in a really positive way. It's encouraging them just to be less afraid, and not worry about whether it looks cool, or if their friend will think they're silly because they're so obsessed with someone. Just forget about the rest of the world and really just love someone -- that's the message.