Friday, June 17, 2011
wall street journal .com article - "The Ballad of a Rebel and Her Lost Love"
Daniella Zalcman for The Wall Street Journal
Genesis Breyer P-Orridge in her Lower East Side apartment, with her late wife tattooed on her right forearm.
Lady Gaga has nothing on Genesis Breyer P-Orridge.
The British performance artist and musician was a lightning rod for controversy in the 1970s, inventing industrial rock with the band Throbbing Gristle and engaging in transgressive conceptual-art display. At the time, her extreme presence was enough to lead an enraged member of parliament to condemn the Manchester native's art collective as "wreckers of civilization."
"People have an image of Genesis being extreme or scary," said filmmaker Marie Losier. "She's not." The Brooklyn-based director spent much of the last seven years in the company of the performer, who was born Neil Andrew Megson in 1950 but no longer answers to the male pronoun and in conversation uses the collective "we" instead of the first-person singular. The reasons for that are a big part of Ms. Losier's lyrical documentary "The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye," which screens Thursday in Brooklyn as part of BAMcinemaFest. The film, which has yet to find a distributor, is a kaleidoscopic portrait not only of a punk-era iconoclast but of the transformative powers—both literal and figurative—of love.
Ms. Losier, whose subjects have included avant-garde dramatist Richard Foreman and underground filmmakers George and Mike Kuchar, began shooting as Ms. Breyer P-Orridge embarked on a radical project with her wife, Jacqueline Breyer, a lithe and mercurial blonde performance artist known as Lady Jaye. The pair became fascinated with the idea of becoming a single persona—"pandrogyny," they called it—and on Valentine's Day 2003, initiated an extensive series of plastic surgeries to merge their genders.
"That was a hilarious day, it really was," said Ms. Breyer P-Orridge, 61 years old, recalling how Lady Jaye settled on a pair of plump C-cups in the doctor's office before her mate piped up: "'And we want them too! Can you make them exactly the same?' He wasn't flustered at all."
View Full Image
Daniella Zalcman for The Wall Street Journal
Lady Jaye and Genesis Breyer P-Orridge together in a portrait.
.That process would have been the prevailing theme of the movie, which Ms. Losier painstakingly shot in 16mm, one three-minute roll of film at a time. But in 2007, Ms. Breyer, who worked as both a registered nurse and a professional dominatrix, died suddenly of unexpected complications from stomach cancer. She was 37 years old.
The couple had been together since 1993, when, after three solid days of partying, the musician awoke on the floor of a Chelsea dungeon (the guest accommodations) to see a "beautiful, tall woman walking back and forth, accenting everything with a cigarette, very glamorous and aesthetic…and it was Jaye."
It was love at first sight. Eventually the couple wed and made a home in a brownstone in Ridgewood, Queens, owned by Lady Jaye's ailing grandmother. It's here that much of the film takes place, between tours with Psychic TV, the band Ms. Breyer P-Orridge founded in 1981. (She will perform with a later rock 'n' roll iteration, Thee Majesty, in a post-screening concert on Thursday).
Ms. Losier shaped her footage, which includes a volume of archival materials and an intricately layered soundtrack, into the story of an epic love affair. The concept of pandrogyny was, Ms. Breyer P-Orridge said, like a flesh-and-blood version of Beat-era artist Brion Gysin's surrealist creative strategy called the "cut-up." But, as the couple sought to explore, it also was a spiritual process. A guiding principle, she noted, was, "Let's see if there's a way to become so completely entwined that we can find each other after death. Jaye, like me, is someone who says, 'See a cliff? Jump off!'"
Charming and loquacious, the former scourge of England is more like an imp of the perverse these days, inviting guests to look through mementos of art and music happenings whose history she narrates in often playful asides. All that radical derring-do is offset by the Zen-like calm of her renovated apartment in the Henry Street Settlement on the Lower East Side, purchased 18 months ago. Once, "we were the only eccentrics who got off at that subway stop," she said of the station in Ridgewood. After Lady Jaye's death there were too many new arrivals asking for autographs. It was time to move on.
The performer still cuts a radical figure, flashing gold teeth between plump lips, platinum blonde bangs contrasting with one of several customized black leather motorcycle jackets she favors. "Genesis has a lot of layers," said Ms. Losier, who met her subject the day after she first saw Psychic TV perform, when she stepped on the performer's toes at a SoHo art opening. Just a few weeks later, Ms. Losier was on a tour bus with the band somewhere in the middle of Russia. "We thought she was so fragile," Ms. Breyer P-Orridge said of the filmmaker. "But she did it."
Though it's often traumatic for the artist to watch Lady Jaye as she flickers on the screen, the movie is nevertheless fulfilling. "People came up in tears," Ms. Breyer P-Orridge said, recalling a recent festival showing. "Someone said, 'You made me realize that I shouldn't be afraid of committing to love.' That's an amazing thing to happen, isn't it, from a film? It's all that Jaye wanted."