"The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye" is a strange, dreamlike film about an outlandish mental state: true love. This documentary by Marie Losier brings a raw, home-movie feel to the story of a man and woman who so adored each other that they set out to eradicate the boundary between themselves. Through elective plastic surgery they sought to transform themselves into identical twins.
It's an outlandish extension of a familiar concept. How often do we tell our lovers that we feel at one with them, that we want to emulate their best qualities? Here we see an amazing couple who take that ego-obliterating infatuation to its logical conclusion. They both consider their body just the "flesh suitcase" that houses their soul.
He was born Nigel Megson and took the name Genesis P-Orridge as frontman of the 1970s English industrial bands Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV. She was Jacqueline Breyer, 19 years his junior, a tall, beautiful New York City nurse and professional dominatrix known as Lady Jaye.
In his work onstage and avant-garde performance art, Genesis pushed the gender-blurring experimentation of Bowie-era glam rock to scandalous extremes. Eager to subvert taboos, he presented a shocking exhibit at the London Institute of Contemporary Art that caused the national Arts Council to publicly apologize for its support.
In 1993 he met Lady Jaye and it was mad love at first sight. Like intertwined chameleons, they mirrored each other, donning platinum wigs and dressing alike to create a third person that was the sum of them, called Breyer P-Orridge. As an anniversary present, they began the elective surgeries designed to modify themselves into the being Genesis calls the Pandrogyne.
Skeptics will see this as a freak show. I think it deserves a more sympathetic viewing. Losier achieves a wonderful intimacy as she follows the couple through the trajectory of their love affair. We get to know these people, coming to appreciate the sincere yearning for spiritual transformation that underlies their hey-look-at-me mugging for the camera. Scenes of their domestic life are not really so different from those of most two-gender couples.
The film is sensitive to the impact of their project on Genesis' two children from a prior relationship. One asks Daddy, "Do I have to call you Mummy now?" and the other grouses, "You spent all that money on [breast implants] when you could have bought me a car?" It would take a hard heart to deny the tenderness that this unique not-quite-a-couple displays for each other. When Genesis waxes enthusiastic about their mutual art project, Lady Jaye replies, "I don't care about any of that, I just want to go down as one of history's great love stories." These snippets from their family album show that she achieved her goal.