Sharing a name and a face
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, Mar. 23, 2012
You know how, when you're in love, you want to be close to your beloved? So close, in fact, that you almost want to become the other person? By, say, having cosmetic surgery so that you look more like your honey?
If not, then you will find plenty to scratch your head about in "The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye," a frustrating if fitfully fascinating documentary about the singer, writer and performance artist known as Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and his wife, Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge. Before Lady Jaye's death in 2007, the two were in the midst of an ongoing art project, called "Creating the Pandrogyne," in which the couple (born Neil Megson and Jacqueline Breyer) underwent a series of plastic surgeries - including his-and-hers breast implants on Valentine's Day 2003 - so that they would more closely resemble each other.
The art, such as it is, is a little lopsided. Rather than meeting somewhere in the gender-ambiguous middle, both parties end up looking pretty much like Lady Jaye, who at the time of her death from cancer was a sexy, 30-something punk-rock chick with peroxide hair. Genesis, then and now, looks more like what he is: a fat, not particularly attractive 60-ish guy in bad Debbie Harry drag, circa 1980. Neither one, reportedly, had genital-modification surgery.
If it's art, it's only mildly interesting.
More interesting is Genesis's history as the lead singer of the pioneering industrial music band Throbbing Gristle and other avant-garde groups. In fact, the film spends most of its 72 minutes trying to situate the Pandrogyne project in Genesis's history as a cultural provocateur, and it still doesn't feel like enough. Although the subject is not without a perverse curiosity, documentarian Marie Losier's film is marred by haphazard editing and amateurish, home-movie-caliber camerawork, with voice-over interviews with its subjects that are typically accompanied by seemingly unrelated - and unidentified - archival footage. They're often spoiled by background noise, water spots on the lens and an apparently pathological inability to focus.
It's all very punk rock, but it grates after a while.
Left out of Losier's film is some intriguing stuff, such as a 1995 accident at the home of music producer Rick Rubin that left Genesis severely injured and that resulted in a lawsuit and $1.5 million legal judgment, much of which financed the pair's surgeries.
It's not mentioned.
Nor, for that matter, is there any exploration of Genesis's deeper motives - if there are any - for his transformation. That puzzle piece was also strangely missing from "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work," the 2010 documentary whose sad subject Genesis increasingly has come to resemble, in more ways than one.
Contains nudity and sexual themes.