Those familiar with musician and performance artist Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, one of the pioneers in the 1970s industrial music scene and in bands such as Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV, may want to check out the fascinating and surprisingly moving documentary The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye, which makes its Twin Cities debut Wednesday, April 4 at the Walker Art Center before opening at the Lagoon Cinema two days later. Those who are unfamiliar with Genesis or her story may want to come see the film anyway, as the documentary not only focuses on the history of her music, but a relationship and marriage with the Lady Jaye (Jacqueline Breyer) that would change their lives forever. It’s a story that very few know about, one that has never been captured in film before.
Seven years in the making, The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye chronicles the life that Genesis and Lady Jaye had started making for themselves as they were in complete love with one another, going to some extreme lengths to show their love. When they were married in 1993, they began experimenting with their bodies and identities to create a gender transformation that was later dubbed “Pandrogyne”: being completely androgynous, having both masculine and feminine characteristics. They started getting breast implants, altering their facial features to become one and the same. They still performed music together under the name PTV3, which was somewhat of a revamped line-up of Psychic TV, until Lady Jaye’s death in 2007 due to stomach cancer. Director Marie Losier includes private home video footage, interviews, and live performances, bringing a unique blend of cinema verité and a passionate love story to life.
Losier, who will be present along with Genesis at the Walker screening and a few select weekend screenings at the Lagoon, has made numerous experimental short films, but Ballad was her first feature-length film. It was first shown at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2011, where it won the prestigious “Teddy Award” given to the best film on GLBTQ topics. It has gone on to screen at close to 150 film festivals worldwide, and this past fall was picked up by newly minted U.S. distribution shingle Adopt Films, which was formed by veteran independent film distributor/filmmaker/producer Jeff Lipsky and Minnesota natives Tim Grady and Karen Sternal (both on the board of the Film Society of Minneapolis/St. Paul). It is Adopt’s first film to open theatrically, and the company has since picked up seven additional films (three of them screening at MSPIFF in a few weeks). The film was released in New York, San Francisco, and Berkeley in early March and will play over 50 markets over the course of the next few months.
Another Twin Cities native attached to The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye is producer Steve Holmgren. Holmgren, 28, went to business school at Boston University and then relocated to New York after college and began working at HDNet Films. After leaving HDNet Films, he began focusing on more film distribution and sales and currently is the curator at a microcinema in Brooklyn called Union Docs and has started to produce independent films. His first was Matthew Porterfield’s highly acclaimed drama, Putty Hill, which was picked up by U.S. distributor Cinema Guild and is currently available on DVD and VOD. The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye is the second film he has produced.
I spoke to Holmgren over the phone, and he was excited about the opening this week. “It’s pretty huge that Ballad is finally having its Twin Cities premiere, especially at the Walker, and it’s thrilling to be working with a distributor with Twin Cities ties.” He also said, “It’s rewarding to work on something that gets some local recognition, since many of my friends and family have the opportunity to see it now.” I asked if his parents have seen the film yet, Holmgren said they have not but he hopes they can make the Walker screening on Wednesday.
I asked Holmgren how he became connected with the documentary. “Marie and I became friends in New York, being part of the film scene,” he said. “She’s the curator at the French Institute and we often would be at the same screenings, either at the French Institute or she would come to Union Docs or we’d be at Anthology screenings. I was also a fan of her short films and she told me how she had been working on the Genesis documentary for close to six years on her own. I saw some sections out of the film and she needed help to finishing it, so I helped her bring in an editor and helped her by getting music clearances. I came into the project late and had worked in the production process and it was a project I was interested in helping out with and once we started working together on it, it came together pretty quick.”
After producing one film already, Holmgren said it is a bit hard to compare the similarities or differences or producing a narrative and a documentary, “It is a bit more undefined, where a narrative has set scenes with a shooting schedule, but with a documentary you are constantly shooting material, but sometimes you don’t know how long you have to shoot and there might be more interviews and footage to incorporate later on.”
While Holmgren mentions he came onto the project much later, one reason why the film works is due to the candid footage and interviews that Genesis gives in the film, which obviously could not have been made without her blessing. “Genesis is really happy with how film turned out. She needed to trust Marie with what was being shot for the film, as Genesis wasn’t part of the editing process, but overall she was thrilled with the film. She let Marie shoot tons of footage, as Marie was a fan of Genesis and Lady Jaye’s music and their lifestyle. Nobody knew how it would turn out or where it would play and it has managed to connect with a lot of audiences. There have been great responses from the GLBTQ communities, underground experimental music fans, and art communities. Jeff and Tim have been really supportive since picking up the film and there is a great passionate love story to the film that many people understand too. It has been great exposure too for Marie as a filmmaker and Genesis as an artist.”