Filmmaker, artist and curator, Marie Losier, was born in France in 1972, and has been living and working in New York City for the past seventeen years. She creates singular portraits of vanguard filmmakers, musicians, composers and artists, although many of them are far from obscure. Losier has given her distinctive filmic treatment to the likes of Mike and George Kuchar, Guy Maddin, Richard Foreman, Tony Conrad and Genesis P-Orridge, the subject of her latest piece called The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye. She also has intimate friendships with all of these talents. Here’s what filmmaker Charles Burnett wrote to her in 2006 about her work, “I sit with a smile on my face. I wish there were more people like the characters in your films, in the world. It takes you on a ride that weaves the real and surreal.” And Maddin has dubbed her “Edith Sitwell’s inner Tinkerbell.”
Her films have shown widely in museums, galleries, biennials and festivals all over the world, including P.S.1 in New York City, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney Biennial, Rotterdam International Film Festival, La Fondation Cartier, The Tate Modern, The Wexner Art Center, Luxe Gallery, White Column Gallery, the Ismailia International Film Festival in Egypt, Anthology Film Archives (where she also curates experimental film and video shows), Ocularis, British Film Institute, the Musée d’Art Contemporain, among many others. She was recently the subject of a full retrospective at the Buenos Aires Festival of International Cinema.
Since 2000, Losier has also worked full-time as the film curator at The French Institute Alliance Française in New York City, where she presents a weekly film series and has hosted the likes of Raoul Coutard, Claire Denis, Chantal Akerman, Jane Birkin, Jeanne Moreau, Jackie Raynal, and Anouk Aimée. As well, she has performed in films by George and Mike Kuchar, and Jackie Raynal, and in plays by Juliana Francis and Tony Torn.
Her work with Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, born Neil Andrew Megson in Manchester, England in 1950, has been a seven-years-long collaboration, and has resulted in her first feature film, which will début as part of the Forum at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival. The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye is a glorious pastiche that features the story of the incredible love between Genesis and Lady Jaye. Tragically, in the midst of creating this project, Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge unexpectedly passed away at the age of 42 on October 9, 2007.
Most famous for the bands, Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV, the 63-year-old Genesis currently resides in the house in Brooklyn, New York where he lived together with Jaye. There, Genesis reads, paints and writes. He also tours extensively, giving lectures, talks and performances throughout the world. As part of the Forum Expanded section, Genesis and Tony Conrad will perform an improvised violin concert together on February 19th at Berlin’s Hebbel-am-ufer Theatre.
During a trip to New York at the very beginning of this year, I met with Marie at the charming East Village coffee and pastry palace, DeRobertis Caffe. In walked a tiny figure, bundled up in a long coat and chapeau against the winter chill—an utterly charming and warmly-smiling gamine—to talk to me about her latest project, her unique and intimate relationship with Genesis, and the long and hard road she traveled to complete this film:
Still in Motion (SIM): I think it’s always pretty easy to tell when the subject or subjects of a film have encountered the maker that’s meant to record their story. I’ve seen wonderful examples of that several times in the last few years. You have a distinctive way in which you do portraiture in film. Some of the first footage I saw of this piece was where you and Genesis were playing a game of hide-and-seek amongst the shelves of a gigantic home archive. It was so playful and so lovely. And, of course, it’s an amazing and deeply moving love story.
Marie Losier (ML): Very moving. Gen is amazing.
SIM: When and how did you first meet one another?
ML: Seven years ago, I went to see a concert of Alan Vega with Suicide at the Knitting Factory [in New York City]. I was really excited because I loved his work but, unfortunately, it was a terrible concert—really bad. However, the third part of the concert was Genesis, of whom I didn’t know anything. It was Three Majesty, her third band. So it was Bryan Dall, Genesis and Lady Jaye on bass, and she was reciting poems and it was so amazing, her energy and her presence were astounding. I had no idea who they were.
The next day I went to an opening—which I never do—right in Soho. I walked into this gallery and it was a show about music and painting. It was packed with so many people. I was crushed against a wall because I’m so small and I stepped on someone’s foot. I turned around to apologize and it was Gen. She looked at me and all I saw were huge gold teeth in a big smile. I told her that I had seen her concert the evening before, told her how beautiful I thought it was, how moved I was. She looked at me for a couple of seconds, gave me her card and asked me to call her. When I called, she asked me to come over.
When I got there, I was introduced to the basement where she greets people when she doesn’t know them. I was sitting on this gigantic plastic chair shaped like an open palm. She was staring at me and then called Lady Jaye. Jaye walked down the stairs, looked at me and asked me if I’d like a coffee. She asked me what I did, what kinds of films I made, so I talked a little bit about my work.
Something passed between the two of them and Jaye looked at me and said, “She’s the one. She’s the one who’s going to film our life. We’ve been waiting for you.” Ten days later, they took me on tour with Psychic TV. I didn’t know their music at all, but it had been a dream of mine to go on tour with a band. It was really intense. I jumped in. That’s how we met.
SIM: It sounds like you had no choice in the matter.
ML: It was like it was waiting for me, yes. I always wanted to be in a rock band and this was it. And then, through the years, I learned about Gen and Lady Jaye. I lived with them for a time. It was then I saw the love story. Also, filming the concerts and being on tour made me really sure I didn’t want to do a film about a rock band. It’s very repetitive and a bit cliché. I wanted something more. Discovering their archives made me realize how much was there.
SIM: She’s front and center in this film. It appeared to me that Jaye, at times, was a bit reticent about being filmed. She could ham it up for the camera like in home movie fashion, but she seemed to almost shy away a bit once in a while.
ML: She was more of a private person. But also she had a very strong personality. They would do everything together. There was a complete energy balance with everything they did, all day long. The pandrogyny project was as much Jaye as it was Gen. They were muses to, and for, one another. So I saw something really balanced. Jaye was much less comfortable being filmed. I first did spend more time with Gen because she was so open. And then, suddenly, in 2007 Jaye died.
I thought that would be the end of the film, really, because it was so tragic, but I kept filming up until last year, 2010. I did really think that would be the end, though. Her death was a complete shock and Gen was completely devastated. It was the end of the band; it was the end of everything. Gen stayed at home crying for about a year. I spent a lot of time there and she said to me that she didn’t want me to stop. She wanted me to keep making the film in memory of Jaye. I had to adjust to both taking care of her and supporting her and also to keep the film going. It was just really painful and hard, so heavy. I film alone so it’s not like I have a crew to make it a bit less intimate, so it tends to be very emotional. You have to be careful—sometimes, you get taken into things you don’t want to and it’s very painful and, at times, very forceful. Sometimes you see things you really don’t want to see and there’s no protection.
SIM: One senses that vulnerability. There is one scene where she’s sitting listening to a song and starts to weep and the camera gets put down immediately as you go to her. There would be a lot of filmmakers that would have just sat there and kept shooting.
ML: I’m really close to Gen; she’s a very dear friend. We’ve been through so much and she knows me inside out. She also knows how hard I’ve worked on this and that I’ve done it entirely by myself, including negotiating music rights, archival rights, credits, and other things where I really have no idea what I’m doing. It’s endless—building a website, on and on. Steve Holmgren, who came on as a producer after the film was made, is helping, but I’ve had to do everything else by myself. Not to mention the fact that no funding for which we applied came through. It’s been a hard film to pull out since I also work fulltime so it’s been one roll [of film] at a time. I think the film is just too experimental for many funders, and I think Gen scares some people.
SIM: Ironically, their story has been an inspiration for other films. I think of Jake Yuzna’s Open, which won a Teddy at Berlin last year, for instance. Also, the times that they lived through and the incredible people that Gen calls friends and colleagues is pretty damned impressive. You’ve captured an important piece of literary, art and music culture in the 20th century.
ML: Yes, William Burroughs, Brion Gysin, the list goes on and on.
SIM: It’s possible you would have been supported more extensively if you had been making this film in Europe.
ML: Well, it was also one of those instances where I just started filming. There wasn’t a choice in the matter and I have never really worked with a producer before so I didn’t have one on this film either. To then look for money three or four years into the project was difficult. Thankfully, I had a few grants that supported me during that time. But the film was basically self-funded. I also didn’t want to bend at all in my creative vision for this piece. When I did the IFP market, I met with a lot of people who really wanted to help but the film needed to be a bit more “commercial” for them to be able to do that, more of a traditional bio-pic, I guess. So that made it clear that I just had to keep making my film my way. I have so much material that is not going to be in the final film. I’ve done many, many interviews that I’m not using and I have interviews of people who are no longer here, like Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson of Throbbing Gristle, who died a month ago, people like Gibby Haynes [of the Butthole Surfers], Peaches [Mermaid Café, The Shit]. I decided in order for me to really make it my piece, it would have to be Gen’s voice and Jaye’s voice.
SIM: There are also these wonderful, whimsical interludes that you use where you dress Gen up in costumes and do little “passion plays” and such. You externalize the flights of imagination she’s used throughout her career to express herself. For anyone who knows your work, “playtime” sessions with your subjects are de rigueur.
ML: I also live this way. I do a lot of that playtime type of thing in my daily life with my friends. It was great to push Gen to do it without a lot of thought; she just trusted me and dressed up and did what I asked. She’s always portrayed as a rock icon, very posed, the whole concert/fan thing. But I know the Gen who can be so whimsical and so out-there in another way. I wanted to turn her into this other character. She lives her life as a sort of fiction, anyway. Gen fears nothing. Yet she’s the most sensitive and emotional person, and quite shy, actually. She loves being alone, reading books. Everything else she releases on stage.
SIM: Berlinale is, of course, one of the most important film festivals in the world. Are you excited, intimidated, nervous? You’ve exhibited films there before, but this time, Genesis is also going to perform a live show with Tony Conrad at the fest, which should be amazing.
ML: Gen is nervous. I introduced her to him for a scene in my film about Tony. She saw the film [Tony Conrad DreaMinimalist, 2008] and just fell in love with him and asked me about him. She didn’t know his music or anything. And I knew Gen’s favorite instrument is the violin. So I set up a scene where both of them are playing the violin. I organized something more formally, since people really wanted to see this unique collaboration. We made it into a two-day concert at ISSUE Project Room and also did an album. They became really good friends and now are touring together. I should be an agent [laughing]. So in Berlin, they’ll do their concert, which will be totally improvised. (Still of Tony Conrad and Genesis in "Slap the Gondola," 2009, photo by Bernard Yenelouis.)
The curators in the Forum Expanded section are really amazing about pushing the edge, creating events for the festival. Vaginal Davis and Bruce LaBruce are always creating something really unique and special there, all these amazing artists that live in, or come through, Berlin regularly.
SIM: What’s so delightful for me, always, is the fabulous sense of humor that accompanies all this madness. It’s great fun. Gen, too, is a very funny person, almost like an old vaudeville performer. The sections without synch sound are so evocative of the silent movie era
ML: Well, the use of no synch sound in the film was a bit scary. I worked for years without that. I was afraid it would put a viewer too much outside the film. But I think I found ways to bring a viewer in. Gen’s always worked with cut-ups. So, in a way, certain parts of the film act as kinds of cut-ups. It works with the subject.
SIM: Have you edited the whole film on your own, as well? It’s beautifully edited.
ML: Yes, essentially, but the editing started with the support and help of friend, Charlotte Mangin. She went through all the footage with me and helped shape and build the story. I also had invaluable help after eight months when everything was assembled, including sound. My friend, Marc Vives, came in and helped me to move things around when I couldn’t see anymore. The story needed some shaping and I wanted it to have more of a feature narrative storyline. I’m not a narrative person. And I couldn’t move the pieces anymore. I’ve always edited my own films; it’s an essential part of the process for me. It wouldn’t have my touch otherwise. I had about 20 hours of 16mm film and about 60 hours of interviews on HD. I also have non-HD video; there’s a lot. I could make many movies [laughing].
SIM: I would think that someone, at some point, would be very interested in the archive you’ve gathered.
ML: Yes, I always keep an extensive archive. Gen’s used some of the material for music videos or projections for her concerts. You see some of that footage being projected during some of the shows—a movie within a movie.
SIM: The way in which Genesis has recreated herself over and over again speaks to that way in which your footage will probably be manifested in several different ways. That’s the joy of making art and, to me, that’s apparent in all the film work you do. Your pieces remind me in a way of handmade quilts, excuse the quaint analogy. I guess what I’m saying is that no one else can weave together these elements like you can considering your emotional proximity to your subjects.
ML: I’ve also learned so much from living next to Gen for so long. As an artist, it opened many doors in ways of thinking about things and ways of being. I see someone who is fearless, who doesn’t have a lot of money but lives in this uncompromising way and keeps going, really experimenting. To me, that’s the key of life—that freedom. It’s really hard to do it.
SIM: How does she survive?
ML: She sells some of her paintings. Now it will be a bit difficult since Throbbing Gristle doesn’t exist anymore. That was paying a good amount touring with that band. Psychic TV also doesn’t exist. There will be some shows here and there, but not enough to make a living. She also lectures, sells artwork. (Lady Jaye, second from left, and Genesis, center, in a Psychic TV publicity still.)
SIM: Can you talk about your impressions of the pandrogyny experiment, this living art piece that Genesis and Lady Jaye created together? It’s been called performance art. It’s been called a lot of different things.
ML: Well, I will say that, for me, that was not the subject of the film and not something I was interested in focusing on. Their “credo” about all that and why they did it was not really the interesting thing for me, so much as the love it expressed. What I saw in all that, almost exclusively, was the love story. To do a story on two people who engaged in plastic surgery to transform themselves to look like one another as a piece of performance art wouldn’t be up my alley, frankly. But I’ve known her for years and have an archive of rock music and so that pandrogyny was part of the cut-ups, being male and female simultaneously. It’s part of the “performance” but it’s also so much about being Gen and Jaye and their love. It became something else for me. People might be disappointed because this is not a “fan” film about Throbbing Gristle or Psychic TV. It’s a disturbing love story.
It was a bit difficult for me since I was moved by both Gen and Jaye, as people. But I was compelled to tell this story of this unique transformation. These are real people. As strange as it is, when you think about what they go through, it’s just a human story. For Gen, it’s not about becoming a woman or being transgender.
ML: She likes being “she” right now.
SIM: A way to stay close to Jaye.
ML: Jaye is always there. She’s unbelievably present. Gen still uses the pronoun “we,” not “I.” It’s both of them, all the time. I’ve only known Gen as a “she,” so it’s pretty straightforward for me. It’s much harder for people who’ve known Gen as a man to say “she,” the daughters, for instance. They call her Dad.
SIM: To me, the most important thing this portrait of a life says is that all of us are separate but equal to everyone else and we can do whatever we want with our lives. Genesis is inspiring in that way of never asking permission from anyone about how she feels she needs to realize and validate her existence. I really hope audiences will tap into that more than anything else in your film. That and the amazing music she creates.
ML: Yes, the music is something that has attached me most strongly to the film. Seeing her perform makes me remember that, how much I love the music she makes, her voice, that singing / talking voice that carries everything. Gen’s voice, for me, is just beyond. I want this film to be a musical ballad; this is why that word is in the title. It’s also, of course, a love ballad.
SIM: There must have been moments over the past several years when it all became too much for you considering this devotion you’ve had to Gen and Jaye and their story.
ML: [She laughs, shaking her head.] There were moments when it was really hard and I wasn’t really that strong yet. Gen was hard on me, as was the band, at the beginning. They were testing me. I had to go through a lot. And there were some really heavy times, emotionally. I was fragile and sometimes it ate me up. There were times I wanted to stop. I was also making other projects and keeping up with my everyday life. It’s hard to only be with one person for so long. Gen also saw how stubborn I am and has discovered other things I do, all the friends I have, the life I have. But she also knew I would never give up on her and the story and the project.
But now that the project is finished, I am looking forward to just going to a movie together with her, eating ice cream together, and not be filming everything! But I relate to people mostly through my work, working and collaborating on something. And our relationship is based on this creativity so I’m sure we’ll keep doing things together. And we have several months ahead touring together with the film, of course.
SIM: Gen’s life, post-Jaye—what does that look like? I know from what you say, Jaye’s presence is always there, but do you think she will want to spend the rest of her life alone?
ML: She explains it this way: Jaye was the ultimate love of her life. She told me that in order to be with someone else—which she would love because it’s hard to be alone all the time—that person would have to love Jaye, as well, and accept that Jaye will always be there.
SIM: That would take a pretty expansive individual. It sounds highly romantic, but difficult.
ML: That person will be very hard to find. Most of the time I see Gen, she’s alone and she seems to be okay with it because Jaye’s there. And she’s also surrounded by a few, genuine, really good people who care for her deeply and have been a part of her life for a very long time.
SIM: You chose a very open ending for this film which is, obviously, appropriate for a life far from finished. What were some of the harder editing choices you had to make for the cut audiences will see at festivals?
ML: There were some really, really beautiful scenes with Peaches dancing that were really great. There were some fantastic and funny scenes with Gibby Haynes. Those kinds of things were hard for me to let go. There were some with Sleazy. But it became too cliché to have those scenes in the film. They really belong to any kind of “extra” material. Ultimately, they distracted from the main story. There were also some beautifully shot, very whimsical scenes with Gen with great costumes and things that were hard to let go.
SIM: What’s the distribution plan post-festival run?
ML: The only thing I know for sure right now is that the film will be distributed by Arsenal in Germany. Stephanie [Schulte-Strathaus, co-director of Arsenal—Institute for Film and Video Art, member of the selection committee of the Berlinale Forum, and founding director of Forum Expanded] was the first person to show my work at a major festival and has had a huge influence on my ability to exhibit my films. I owe her a lot; she’s been an incredible mentor.
But other than that, I don’t really know. Steve has some ideas. It’s so nice to have someone working with me with so much passion and excitement, someone who’s working so hard without getting paid. It’s such a gift to have such a dedicated producer; I’m not used to that. Also, I must mention, too, that Martin Marquet, a dear friend, is working on the producing and publicity aspect. And Elyanna Blaser-Gould, my assistant, has my eternal gratitude. Without her constant support, I could not have done any of it.
SIM: I’m looking forward to meeting you and Genesis in Berlin. People there will love the film; I know it.
ML: We’re both so nervous and anxious, but also incredibly excited. Yes, see you there!
(All photos courtesy marielosier.net, with the exception of Psychic TV still, courtesy Dan Mandell, www.danielmandell.com.)