At the start of Marie Losier’s film The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye, there’s a black-and-white image of a blonde with big eyes wearing a white nightgown, flapping her arms and making chicken gestures. I think she may be a cross-dresser.
Cut to a young blonde in a kitchen. She’s flirting with the camera and acting silly. She does a little pompom dance with two bunches of parsley.
As the film cuts back and forth between these two, they start to look more alike: bleached-blond bobs, full lips, round eyes.
The two blondes are Genesis and her wife, Lady Jaye. Genesis, born Neil Megson, is a British performance artist and art rocker who was part of one of the first industrial rock bands in the 70s, Throbbing Gristle. TG pioneered the use of sampling in rock music, and the cut-up has been a permanent and profound obsession for Genesis ever since.
The documentary’s experimental style echoes this philosophy. It’s a cut-up that incorporates home videos (of a birthday party or of Genesis cooking in lingerie), borrowed footage of William Burroughs or Brion Gysin (Genesis’s mentors), surreal performance art, and images of Throbbing Gristle. There are even staged scenes, but they’re unlike reenactments you might see in more conventional documentaries. In one, Genesis is a boy. It’s his first day of school. The silent images of him roaming the school alone are accompanied by a voice-over in which Genesis tells of being beaten up at school. The film creates a symbolic landscape–a schoolroom with only one desk, a bathroom entrance with BOY and GIRL painted in huge letters and with arrows pointing in opposite directions (the boy chooses neither). The scene is not a literal representation of what happened. It’s a portrait of Genesis’s mind.
Although Genesis is the cross-dresser, Lady Jaye expresses the stereotypical feeling associated with cross-dressing: being trapped in the wrong body. To overcome this feeling, she and Genesis turn their bodies into art. Instead of having children–which Genesis describes as a couple’s way of becoming one person–they decide to become one person in a new way. They have plastic surgeries to look more alike–including breast implants they get on Valentine’s Day. They are human cut-ups.
Like its gender-bending subjects, the film bends the definition of documentary, blending reality and imagination until they become one beautiful new creation.
Both Genesis and Losier will be on hand at 9:30 p.m. on March 23, when The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye screens at the Michigan Theater as part of the Ann Arbor Film Festival. Like a lot of the other films at the March 23-27 festival, it challenges us in ways that may be uncomfortable at first. But ultimately, it expands our notions of what we thought was possible in art. And in life.