Marie Losier is an experimental filmmaker and the film programmer at the French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF) who has brought both her unconventional, intuitive filmmaking methods and her vast film knowledge to the making of her first feature film, The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye, a documentary about the unconventional love story between Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV musician Genesis P-Orridge and his—and then her—wife, Lady Jaye. It’s a heartfelt and unusual masterpiece, and one of the strongest films in this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Marie is a charming blend of otherworldly and gently down-to-earth. She was a pleasure to talk to about the process of finding the form for this unusual and moving film.
There are so many great songs to choose from, and you chose such beautiful ones. How did you end up with those?
I had 15 layers of sounds, so there’s a mix of tons of sounds. There are the environment sounds where I would put the mic in the house, then there’s sound of rehearsals, and I use a lot of this music because it was live and it doesn’t exist on record, it was just that moment that they were practicing and playing. And with those, I chose a lot of the songs that were free, that were from Psychic TV3, the band that I spent time with, because I knew I could use these songs. And then from Thee Majesty, which is Bryin Dall and Genesis. And Bryin also helped me mix the sounds, and he does all the mixing for Psychic TV. So that’s how I chose. But I knew I didn’t have the rights for the last song which I love, “The Orchids,” so that’s the one song I had to pay rights for, with Sony. Because, with Gen, there’s so many songs that she just sold the rights for over the years, just to live. So it was a complicated process. But sounds and music were as important to me as the editing of the image.
How much footage did you have? It’s a short movie, but you have so much content.
Because I shot, of course, interviews, I shot live concerts, I shot interviews of many people…there’s about 150 hours total, between 16mm and HD and Super 8. But when I started editing I just started…shrinking down and deciding I will make something very personal, and not have any “talking heads” interviews. So I took out every other voice but Genesis and Lady Jaye. So it remains, really, my experience and my friendship with them, and a very personal take on their own story.
How long were you with them?
And how did it start?
I didn’t really know anything about Genesis, nothing. I went to see Suicide, I was a big fan. And it was a really disappointing concert; I was, like, “Oh no!” But the third part was Genesis with Thee Majesty. And I left completely mesmerized by Gen’s presence. And the next day I went to an opening in Soho, and there were so many people that I was pushed, and I walked on someone’s foot. And I turned around to excuse myself and it was Genesis. And I was, like, whoa, okay. And she smiled at me with her gold teeth and talked to me, and I told her I loved her performance. She invited me to come over. So I did. And Lady Jaye came down and brought me coffee and they were talking to me. And Lady Jaye looked at me and said to Gen, “She’s the one.” And I was, like, the one what? And they said you’re the one we want to film us, because you’re not a fan, and you’re completely an artist, and this is you that we were waiting for so long. And three weeks later I was on tour with the whole band, in a bus!
That’s really how it started, And I was still working full time and was finishing the film on Tony Conrad; I had no idea that it would become a feature; I had no idea what it would be. It’s really just eight years of friendship and going to their home and accumulating footage, discovering and then shaping—little by little—the story, what I wanted to focus on.
How did you shape it?
It took a really long time. Because I didn’t know where it would go. I didn’t want to know too much about them, because that’s how I make my films. I feel it’s much more interesting and fresh for me to have a relationship and from that relationship a certain part of the person will come out. Little by little. I would dig into the archives. But I was always around them, and they were so in love that it was always on the camera. They were making art together, kissing each other, calling to each other. So the “Pandrogyne” project is not something I wanted to film, this clinical surgery, but it was just the relationship that really struck me. And they were so constantly around me that I recorded them cooking, walking around, rehearsing. Then the tour was a big part for the band, but I realized I didn’t want to make a music concert film or a music film around the band, so that became squished. Like that sequence where you see thousands of concerts, but just squished into 10 minutes. But it became apparent that the love story would be shaping everything about Gen and revealing everything about Jaye, because Jaye was much more shy, and not known like Gen. You see her less in the footage, because she was always escaping, not like Gen who was just not caring about the camera.
It’s not even noticeable that she’s in it less, because while she talks less, she’s so striking whenever she’s on camera.
And even if she’s not here anymore, Gen never really lived without Jaye being there. She’s on the tattoo on Gen’s arm. And Gen doesn’t say “I,” she says “we.” That’s why I didn’t want to show the funeral or anything concrete about her death, because I think she’s always around. Also, her voice is always kind of floating around the whole movie, so you feel she’s always present, but like a ghost, almost.
It’s one of the greatest love stories ever. Like Liz Taylor and Richard Burton!
A weird one! But at the same time it can touch anyone who doesn’t know anything about them.
How much influence did Gen, or did they both have, on the content?
Very little. I mean, it was a collaboration in the sense that if something excited me and I wanted to shoot something about, for example, Burroughs, Gen would dig in to show me what was most important about it. But otherwise I would set up scenes, like the surreal scenes with the deer, and she would come down and put on whatever costumes and just do whatever I wanted. And I would just film; she had no imposition over me. And this was really important for me, because I don’t know how to work any other way.
I was thinking, for instance, about the scene where she says, “Everyone. Is telling the truth. All of the time…” and then it goes into all these quick images from her past, and that just gets at the heart of all that weird magic Psychic TV stuff in just that weird little moment. How did you…
That one is from a song, just three sentences from a song she did. So it’s kind of like her writing, her poems. So I took that snippet of a song, and made her do this, like, slow-motion falling one day when she was sitting on the couch.
Did you do that once you had a lot of the footage and you wanted something to bridge it?
I had no idea, no…
It was pure instinct?
Yeah. A lot of my work came in the editing. Because I had no money so I wouldn’t always be able to see the footage when I was shooting it. Because I was just shooting three-minute rolls on Bolex, no sync sound. So I just accumulated sounds, accumulated interviews. I had images in mind that would go with certain interviews or talk, but it was really just a one-year process of editing. Looking at all my images. And just listening to seven years of sounds, sounds, sounds…
So much sound?
So much sound. Like, maybe I would take one of them on the bus laughing. Maybe I would take one snippet of one sound there, or one word. Like, when you see them rehearsing before they go on tour? This is like eight different places, and yet it feels like one. It’s the same content but it’s really snipped around, collaged.
Speaking of collage, Genesis mentions often the “cut-up” theory of writing, and how much that influenced her music. Did that end up influencing your editing style?
No, because that’s really how I edit. Which was a completely perfect match. We never talked about it! It was natural to me, because her work is like this, but so is my editing and the way I shoot. It’s already a collage to just shoot three-minute snippets of film that you collage together. And that’s the way I’ve always worked, on the Tony Conrad one, on the Guy Maddin one, on the Richard Forman—all these collages of sound and images.
So you weren’t influenced by that theory, it was already a part of your working style?
Yeah completely. I wouldn’t know how to edit other ways. And what I liked when I started editing was that Gen’s voice was very soothing, very storyteller. And yet the images are extremely flashing with energy. So there’s this contrast with stagnant beautiful motion that takes you into the story. And the images are full of energy, in flashes.
Has Gen told you what she thinks?
The first time, she came over to my home and I was really nervous. I was eating all this chocolate trying to calm down. And of course she had seen some of the images but not edited at all. And then she saw the film, and I could see her face and I was holding her hand. And I could feel her hand squeezing in and out, in and out. And then she cried at the end. It was really strong, so she couldn’t talk, so she went back home. And I was, like, [bites her knuckles]. And she called me about eight hours later and said, “It’s a masterpiece. I’ll do anything you want, to go with you with the film.” She said, “You did it, and it’s your own voice.” And I was blessed, because if she had been unhappy I would have been so scared! But it was done with so much love on my part, because I didn’t go to film school or anything. It’s really often about friendship, and all the films I made are about encounters, different encounters with different people with whom I’ve spent years. So they become about friendship. And she knew that. That’s why she went along. And she trusted me on that level.
Did she say what Jaye would have thought?
She always does. So she’s there with you. And so all the good things come from that. Jaye’s always there for her.
Does she say “we” or…?
We. She always says Jaye’s looking after you.
Through the editing and everything?
[Nods] I mean it’s very moving. I didn’t get scared; I mean, she’s a strong personality, Genesis. I just feel that I went with my emotions. It is a beautiful love story. So I didn’t misinterpret it or show negative sides. I think it’s all there in a way that’s pretty generous or respectful, of their own way of loving. So I wasn’t scared really too much about the end result of how Gen would feel, for Jaye.
It felt right?
Yeah, yeah. It felt right.
Have you been at all surprised by any of the other reaction?
Yeah, because for me I come from experimental film. I don’t really have a big audience. I mean, I work full time, I don’t really have a production company or anything. I do everything! I mean, I have friends now, Martin Marquet and Steve Holmgren, many people who came by and helped me in the past six months, for free and because of love, but otherwise all alone.
So it’s surprising, though, because even people who go in not knowing anything about their story, come out really moved, because they can relate to the love story! Even though it can be like an extreme otherworld for them that they wouldn’t have wanted to see or been interested in, but they come out really touched. And that for me, it’s just, I still can’t get it. I mean, I’m still working so hard on the film, sending emails and getting it out, that I don’t quite know what I’ve done yet.
It’s interesting because what you made the focus, this “Pandrogyne” experiment of their doing plastic surgery to look like each other, gets at the root of why we procreate.
Yeah, it’s true. Too eat each other up, as Gen says.
And to merge…
And it’s rare, because usually in love stories, when you merge it doesn’t often work. Because there’s always a balance that has to be equal. And merging is a very dangerous and hard thing to do. I think you have to let go of, really, everything, and become powerless to do that. To be weak, fragile, vulnerable. To love completely, I think you have to accept and be okay being vulnerable.
Which takes a certain strength to be that weak?
You’ve done only experimental works. Did you have a documentary feature role model?
I really didn’t! I didn’t have a model, except that at first I thought, I’m with a rock band. I would love to make a film like Gimme Shelter and Don’t Look Back. Then it became a love story, so it had completely for me no more places in the things I knew. So it was a discovery; I’ve never done a love story. It’s totally new.
How did you find the length? Were you tempted at all to have it be longer?
Yeah, totally. At first I had it much longer. And I felt, like, how can I uncompress the whole feeling, and the life of Gen and Jaye, and make it like you want more at the end, or leave with an emotion? Which for me was about trying to cut down. So that you would smoothly choreograph from one shot to the other, and one feeling to the other. And I didn’t want it to talk too long. So I cut down a lot. Just like in short films, you feel when it’s good timing. And I felt it around 70 minutes. I had gone through it and I didn’t want to over extend it.
So holding back?
Yeah. I didn’t want it to be too much telling information without having the visuals which bring you there.
Is there something connected there, that leaving you with wanting more and leaving you with an emotion? What is created between the audience and the filmmaker when you hold back like that?
It creates your imagination, and that’s what I looove. There are films where it’s almost a Wikipedia film, where you can get all information you need in terms of knowing the subject. And there are films, like I prefer, where you feel things, see things, and then you go home and you really research on the person because you really lived something. And you remain in a space where you want to know more, on your own.
It creates a need for knowledge, but also you can fill in the gaps with your imagination? Like an interplay. Almost like, appropriately for this, a magical/sexual thing…
Yeah! Exactly. I really feel that very strongly in some films.
The Tribeca Film Festival runs from April 20 - May 1.