No matter what one’s personal thoughts are on the industrial and art rock music scenes – and particularly the works of Genesis P-Orridge (Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV) – you’ve never seen a love story quite like this one. Part musical retrospective and part love story, director Marie Losier’s The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye has a level of ambition and admiration equal to that of the enigmatic musician at the heart of the story. Stylish, insightful, intelligent, and genuinely moving despite the sometimes questionable subject matter, Losier knows all the right questions to ask both of her subjects and of the audience.
Filmed mostly using a Bolex 16mm camera that sometimes goes out of sync with the soundtrack, Losier’s film begins mostly as a look back at the career or P-Orridge (nee Neil Megson) who was one of the pioneers of industrial music. From there, it evolves into something akin to peering into a friend’s most personal of photo albums as Genesis explains the beginnings of his love affair with Lady Jaye (real name, Jacqueline Breyer), a certified nurse and former dominatrix half his age. They are so in love that they decide to undergo plastic surgery to become pandrogynous, or to look exactly like each other in every way.
Sadly, Jaye passed away from unrelated seizures long before the surgeries were completed, but Genesis pressed to keep the filming of this project going with his longtime collaborator Losier. The relationship here is more relatable than most squares might think. Despite one’s thoughts on elective plastic surgery as a means to bring a couple closer together, the love between Jaye and Genesis shines through every frame of the film, be it from Losier’s artful editing techniques or through older home movies and archival footage. There’s something undeniably romantic about two people who work on such a similar wavelength, free of acrimony, spite, or disagreement. They both genuinely believe that their bodies are just the “flesh suitcases” that house their souls.
The film might be a bit too heavy on the musical content, especially in the exposition heavy first half, but kudos to Losier for keeping things moving in a fast and consistently engaging manner. Viewers mileage may vary depending on the artistic proclivities, but the fact that Losier allows the audience to draw their own conclusions about how far music, art, surgery, and love can reach speaks to just about anyone. After all, Jaye says it best in the film just before the first surgery when she turns to Genesis and says: “I don’t care about all that art shit. I just want to be one of the greatest love affairs of all time.” It’s not that outlandish a claim when all the evidence is on hand to back it up.