From afar, you could easily confuse the subjects of The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye for Anne Heche and a peroxided version of Sharon Gless. Yet we quickly learn they’re actually conceptual artists Genesis P-Orridge (the progenitor of “industrial music” and a William S. Burroughs buddy) and her partner Lady Jaye (writer by day, dominatrix by night). Their love affair and artistic practice become the same radical project of never-ending performance built around the sartorial (they do house work in full S&M gear). Except here the body itself is treated as a “flesh suitcase,” leading Genesis and Lady Jaye to go through a series of plastic surgeries in order to look like the same person. Instead of buying into the retrograde narrative of child-rearing, they decide to become a new person themselves: same exact nose job, breast implants, and tattoos to match each other’s beauty marks. This is some guerilla gender-fucking that would make Bob Flanagan seem tame; Genesis’s sex reassignment procedure itself is supposedly achieved in the name of artistic symbiosis.
The film has the sped-up, drenched-in-Super-8-nostalgia, shaky-cam aesthetic you typically find in experimental self-fiction fare. It’s as if director Marie Losier was trying to mimic the dynamic of her muses by mirroring their way of thinking through inconsistent visual rhythm, jump cuts, Velvet Underground-esque tracks, and an excessive voiceover narration by Genesis. This mirroring strategy helps Losier craft an interesting yearning for a probably inexistent time when the avant-garde was still immune to the seductions of the mainstream. But it also ends up exposing a certain lack of substance in Genesis and Lady Jaye’s oeuvre and in the film itself. In trying to keep up with the acid-dropping pace, and ethos, of its characters, The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye misses the opportunity to suggest something other than the fleshly surface of things—even if here the flesh is no different than clay (except when it dies, of course).
At one point, the film seems to literally run out of things to say, surrendering its cinematics to long takes of Genesis’s music rehearsals. In Pedro Costa’s Ne Change Rien, the rehearsals were pretty long too; in fact, they were the entire film. And yet, in the persistent quietness of the camera we were able to see through and beyond the literality of the action. Suddenly it was about anything but a music rehearsal. The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye tries so hard to keep up with the quirkiness and theatricality of its subjects that it ends up canceling them out.