Lady Jaye and Genesis P-Orridge: the movie examines their transition to "pandrogyny"

How times change. Derided in 1976 by Tory Member of Parliament Sir Nicholas Fairbairn as a “wrecker of civilization” and forced into exile in the early ‘90s after being falsely accused by Scotland Yard of satanic child abuse, Manchester-born musician and artist Genesis Breyer P-orridge (formerly Neil Megson) recently arranged for his exhaustive archives to reside at one of the world’s greatest art galleries, London’s Tate Modern.

Bodies change, too. Now 62, Genesis was an early adopter of the so-called “modern primitive” lifestyle, adherents of which eagerly tattoo, pierce, and otherwise alter their bodies in any number of imaginative ways — and Genesis, never one for half measures, ultimately decided to take body modification to its logical conclusion after falling head over heels in love with Jacqueline Breyer (aka Lady Jaye), a one-time New York City nurse. Such was the couple’s devotion that they began a long term transition to “pandrogyny”, a state where male and female genders are united within one body. Their amazing and utterly compelling story is told in The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye, a new feature opening this Friday, March 9th at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas.

Berkeleyside has partnered with Landmark Theatres to offer ten readers a pair of tickets each to their choice of one of two special screemings in Berkeley which director Marie Losier will be atttending in person — see below for details.

Directed by Marie Losier, the film briefly summarizes Genesis’ early years as the enfant terrible of British performance art and music. Co-founder of COUM Transmissions, the provocative collective responsible for bursting Fairbairn’s blood vessels back in the ‘70s, and front man for experimental music outfits Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV, P-orridge had already lead an extremely full life before finding himself in the Big Apple. Along with incredibly rare and unsettling footage of COUM performances, the film also features excerpts from TG’s legendary 1981 performance at San Francisco’s Kezar Pavilion.

As the film’s title suggests, however, this is not a documentary about one man’s admittedly fascinating life: instead, the focus is firmly on the relationship between Genesis and Lady Jaye (who died in 2007), and with their mutual decision to drastically alter their bodies. Using funds from a sizable legal settlement, the pair invested in significant and drastic plastic surgery, footage of which is thankfully kept to a minimum. Genesis’ transition is particularly startling and — considering the likely inadvisability of reverse engineering — incredibly brave.

Losier, a diminutive Frenchwoman who had moved to America in search of the mythic New York she’d seen in the movies while also studying art and literature, met Genesis entirely by chance at an Alan Vega concert, where he accidentally stepped on her foot. An unlikely friendship blossomed into an artistic collaboration of sorts, with Losier filming Genesis and Lady Jaye extensively both at home and on tour with Psychic TV. Her extensive archive of up close and personal footage anchors the film, which the director considers less documentary than experimental film — perhaps a reflection of the influence of the Kuchar Brothers, one of whom taught her how to load a camera.

For anyone interested in cutting edge art — both figuratively and, in this case, literally — The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye is essential viewing.

Free ticket offer: Berkeleyside has partnered with Landmark Theatres to offer ten readers a pair of tickets each to their choice of one of two special screemings in Berkeley which director Marie Losier will be atttending in person. It’s first come first serve, so if you would like to see the movie for free on March 10 on Saturday, March 10, at either 6:30pm or 8:15pm, simply email Landmark Shattuck with the subject headline “Ballad Berkeleyside” and they will respond if you are among the first ten.

Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a weekly movie recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as well as a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly.  

To find out about more events in Berkeley and nearby, check out Berkeleyside’s Events Calendar. We also encourage you to submit your own events.

Freelancer John Seal is Berkeleyside’s film critic. A movie connoisseur with a penchant for natty hats who lives in Oakland, John writes a weekly film recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as...