Marie Losier is a French-born, New York-based filmmaker, whose film “The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye” follows the love story between Industrial music legend Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and Lady Jaye. The film won the Teddy Award for Best Documentary feature at the past Berlinale, as well as the 2011 Caligari Prize. Marie is currently on tour with the film throughout Germany, and is screening here in Berlin for the next weeks at fsk.
How did you decide on making a film about Genesis and Lady Jaye?
It wasn’t really a decision. They chose me more than I chose them. I knew nothing about Genesis or her music. I went to an Alan Vega concert at The Knitting Factory in Downtown Manhattan, and the third part of the concert was Thee Majesty [P-Orridge's spoken word-based project]. I was really disappointed with the Alan Vega show, but I was totally taken by the weirdness of the third part with Gen. So I left the concert moved, but still not knowing who this character was.
The next day I ended up at a gallery opening, and I accidentally stepped on someone’s foot. I turned around to excuse myself and it was Genesis. So I told her how much I loved the concert, and she was smiling at me the whole time with all her gold teeth. We talked very simply for 10 minutes and something really beautiful passed between us. When she had to leave she gave me her card, and when I wrote to her she invited me to her house, saying she wanted to see me. So I went.
And what happened when you got there?
Lady Jaye was at the door to greet me and brought me coffee and they sat me down on this huge plastic chair in the shape of a hand. It was a really strange setting, down in the basement with all the archives and crosses and gold glitter balls. We talked very shortly and Jayesuddenly said “You’re the one.” I didn’t know what she was talking about so I asked what she meant, and she said “The one who can film us.”
So what did they want you to film exactly?
Jaye and Gen were precise in the sense that they just wanted someone to film their project, which was pandrogeny. I had no idea what that was at all, and they didn’t explain it either. The way the three of us were, everything was so instinctive. We never asked each other questions. I just felt the energy and filmed what I thought was secretly beautiful or strange. I had no direction, because I don’t write anything, so it was just a series of moments. But when I came back to New York, that’s when I spent time in their home, and where I really understood what was going on. I started to see it more as a love project, so I began to focus more on the love story. I was never interested in filming any of the surgery.
I would up going on tour with them one week later through Europe. At first I thought it would be a music documentary, which at the time I guess it was. I just filmed backstage, recording the ambience. I was shy at first. They’d never been filmed before, and they didn’t know me, so they were really testing me to see who I was.
Much of the footage in the film is so intimate, like home movies. How much time would you spend with them?
I work full time, so I would often come in the evenings or on weekends to their house. I never changed their routine. I just followed them around in their daily activities, walking the dog, getting groceries… As I started to develop some depth about where the film was going, I started to record the stories they’d already told me many times. I started constructing scenes based on the stories, little tableau vivants. That’s where the little surreal moments of the film come in. I would make Gen dress up as a bird or in some other ridiculous outfit. I would set up these scenes and they would never ask why.
The film is much more than a documentation about pandrogeny. You focus very little on the surgical end of it.
I wasn’t interested in the surgery aspect, but rather as the concept as a way of living. What I saw was more about an incredible love, rather than a conceptual piece about pandrogeny. When Lady Jaye passed away, I thought it was the end of the film. I didn’t want to intrude. She was completely devastated, and she still is. That’s why she still says ‘we,’ because Jaye is still there. The experiment keeps going.
I also noticed that most of the scenes focus a lot more on Genesis than Lady Jaye, with the entire narration by Genesis.
Some people ask me why Jaye isn’t more present in the film, but that’s because her nature wasn’t so much to be in front of the camera. To me she’s very much there. She was that person who was mysterious and absent and present at the same time. So in a way, her absence makes her more present.
The tableau vivant scenes really reminded me of Guy Maddin, who you’ve also worked together with. Were you influenced by him as you developed these scenes?
I really didn’t think of Guy. What we share is our use of super 8 and superimposition, and our love of silent film, especially it’s humour. But he’s never done non-fiction. Even his documentary My Winnipeg is very much fiction. And with Gen and Jaye there was a lot more straight story.
What about your other work with Genesis? I see in your filmography that there are a few shorts featuring her.
The other films were shot during those years, for a solo exhibition. I wanted to use the subjects I was working with at the time, but go further into what I love, which is objects of cinema. So I made these viewing objects which allow you to see film differently. I built an old magic lantern and a Scopitone machine, which were like the first music videos, only with film. So I built the machine and then directed a music video with Gen and her friends.
Why the use of such old technology?
The first camera I was given was my Bolex, so it’s the way I’ve always worked. I’m not against digital film, but with film I love the fact that you don’t see what you’re filming. The film rolls only hold three minutes of footage, so you have to work differently. And you can do a lot of effects physcially with the camera that you can’t with video. Video freaks me out because you can film forever. My approach to characters and personalities gives very different results because there is no sound recorded at the same time. The subjects are much less self conscious. They almost forget I’m there. I’m also very attached to the 70s look. The texture and the feeling of film is important to me. I was a painter before, so film is kind of a different medium of painting, but in movement.
You’re going on tour through Germany with the film. What’s the connection with Germany?
Stefanie Schulte Strathaus [the curator of Arsenal and programmer for Berlinale Forum Expanded] was the first person to show my shorts, as part of the Berlinale. That changed my life completely in terms of film. My work started to be taken seriously. Shes followed the project about Gen for 7 years, so for me Berlin is really important. I also won the Caligari award, which as part of the deal includes the film tour through Germany.
There are a few filmmakers who’ve migrated to Berlin to work. Would you consider moving away from New York?
It’s the first time I’ve questioned living in New York. I work full time and it’s very difficult. I program all the films at the French Institute, and it’s very intense to do that and be a full-time filmmaker. I’ve never had the luxury and the chance to just work on film, so I’m thinking of moving for the first time to a cheaper place to have time to write grants and work just as a filmmaker.