French-born Marie Losier spent seven years completing her first feature documentary film, The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye. It takes as its subject the love affair and collaboration between Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, the avant-garde performance artist behind the pioneering industrial music group Throbbing Gristle and later Psychic TV, and his wife, Lady Jaye, as the pair embark on a process of sexual transformation.
Losier insists she doesn't do biopics. Instead, Ballad is a portrait of P-Orridge that recasts the groundbreaking performance artist from the angry young man once championed by pioneers of the cut-up, William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin, and slammed in British Tabloids as a sexual deviant, one of “the wreckers of civilisation”. The film focuses on P-Orridge's relationship with Lady Jaye and their efforts to become one “pandrogenous being” through plastic surgery.
“Those who know Gen have an expectation and I think the film completely turns it around,” Losier says of her choice to make a portrait of Genesis rather than focus on her biography. “I don't tell when Genesis was born or what she did explicitly but I find that people who knew about Gen, and people who don't, are moved.”
Losier is an artist. A trained painter, she admits that her “obsession and passion” was always films. When she arrived in New York to study under Richard Foreman, she discovered the underground [art] world in New York. “It drove me into the experimental films,” she says. “I programmed films with Ocularis and Robert Beck for 10 years and met all the people in my field today. It became a very rich circle for me.”
Losier's filmmaking process is reminiscent of painting and is intrinsic to her style and cinematic voice. She uses a Bolex camera, a spring-wound 16mm camera, itself capable of just three minutes of shooting. Losier doesn't record sync sound. She films visuals separately, sometimes recording the ambience, sometimes recording interview materials. She then combines, collates, collages and constructs the narrative in the edit.
Shooting on a Bolex obviously slows down the process of filmmaking. “When you have three minutes, a hand crank and a camera you've got to be in the image,” Losier says now. “You can create effects in camera, as if you are using brushes and paint, that creates the rhythm and an editing system that I've always had. I'm not the person who does long takes with dialogue. It worked perfectly with Gen because it's completely up her alley in terms of cut-ups and collages – with the sound [Throbbing Gristle], with music [Psychic TV], with her collages, her writing and with her body.”
Losier started filming two years into P-Orridge's and Lady Jaye's transformation. The Pandrogeny project began as a romantic gesture between the two and became a process of what P-Orridge refers to in the film as “evolution” facilitated by plastic surgery. The pair started dressing the same, colouring and cutting their hair the same and surgically modifying their bodies to become one.
“Jaye and Gen always documented everything they did: photos of themselves, collages, writing but they didn't want to film each other, says Losier. “I think it was perfect in the sense I didn't know anything about them. There was kindness but I wasn't a 'fan' at all. I wasn't a freak either. I was an artist, so I had my own vision, which I think they liked.” There was no way to know the dramatic turn the film would eventually take. “The project is completely unique and their love is unique, and it always will be.”
The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye has been recognised on the international festival circuit, winning both the Teddy and Caligari Awards at its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival (as part of the prize, the film will be distributed in that country). To date, it has also secured distribution in Canada and France. For Losier, it is the first time her work will reach such a wide audience. “It's always for me the friendship that gives the fun, the playfulness, the collaboration,” she says. “I think Ballad can reach people because it's about what it is to love.”