Of course a guy who calls himself Genesis Breyer P-Orridge is going to do things a little different than most people he shares the planet with. But you're really not prepared for his whole story in the revealing but occasionally sterile documentary The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye. Born Neil Andrew Megson in England in 1950, Genesis formed Throbbing Gristle — a pioneering industrial-rock band that had a thing for the Velvet Underground and noise — in the mid-'70s.
In the '80s, he led Psychic TV through a post-punk revolution that was part performance art, part electronic freakout. In the early 1990s, he met Lady Jaye and began an art project with her called Breyer P-Orridge. They started dressing the same, they got plastic surgery to look like each other, and they both received breast implants. "It was a very romantic moment," he notes in the movie.
Genesis, who has two daughters from a previous marriage, first met Jaye after waking up in the dungeon of a dominatrix house where she was working. He immediately fell for her. And she just as quickly started dressing him in her mini-skirts, heels, and lingerie. "We wanted to be as much like each other as we could," he says. When they got married, Genesis was the bride, Jaye the groom. The usual male-female roles became twisted and reversed in their relationship.
But The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye never quite takes off, despite the bounty of personalities. Genesis tells his story — from schoolboy humiliations to industrial-rock hero — as images from his past parade across the screen. The movie is at its best when he recalls his groundbreaking musical experiments, which are accompanied by archival footage, concert clips, and Genesis flipping through the hundreds of albums he's made over the past 35 years.
He's perceptive and analytical about his work — especially when it comes to the controversial performance-art shows he's presented throughout his career. (Genesis himself will field questions after the 5 and 7:30 p.m. screenings of the movie on Sunday at the Cedar Lee.)
But as its title lets on, The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye focuses more on the couple's relationship and how it relates to their art than on the art itself (though we do get some latter-day Psychic TV ramblings). Director Marie Losier takes an appropriately artsy approach to the material, manipulating the film and staging some scenes as if they're part of a gallery video installation. It suits the film, since Genesis and Jaye play out even the most mundane moments of their lives like they're on display.
It also doesn't help that Jaye (who died of cancer in 2007) isn't nearly as interesting as Genesis. Maybe it's because he's always been at the center of his art and obviously loves the attention. Or maybe it's because this ballad isn't so much about two people as it is about one life lived as a duet.