In a world were individuality and autonomy rule the way, in which Americans think, act and feel. What does it mean to lose one’s identity of self and become one person with another? This is a question that may and should arise from viewing Marie Loiser’s The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye (2011).
I first heard of this documentary in an article titled Documentary Cinema and Reality Huger by Richard Porton in Cineaste Vol. XXXVI no. 3. The article discusses the trend and assault on conventional “talking heads” documentaries. The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye is by no means a conventional documentary. This film takes and avant-garde approach to the genre. The film is narrated by Genesis with images correlating to what is being said but not strictly. If it were not for the narration the viewer would be lost, as to what is happening. Some may think this approach is off putting, but it is not. It actually does the opposite. I found myself totally immersed in the film.
This film tells the story of Genesis and Lady Jaye of how they meet and decided to become one person, not just in a meta-physical or spiritual sense, but in the physical. Genesis was living in northern Californian, at one point. When he would take vacation, he would go to New York. It is on one of these vacations did Genesis discovery Lady Jaye. He later moved to New York and married Lady Jaye. Their wedding was not conventional either. Genesis, at the time still looking like a man, wore the wedding dress and Lady Jaye wore leather pants and a vest. Both of these people have lived life to the beat of their own drum.
After they had been married for some time they began talking about Pandrogyne. Pandrogyne is like the pastiche. It consists of take and various items from a couple different things to re-resemble them into something different. Genesis talks about people becoming one person in a marriage, and the end result of that is a child. Instead of having such a traditional view of things Genesis and Lady Jaye decided they would become the new person. In doing so both Genesis and Lady Jaye had breast implants, nose jobs, and other such things to look more like each other.
In some sense they do not go far enough because they both keep their respective genitalia, but who knows how far they would have kept going with the shaping of their new identity if Lady Jaye had not die. This is a sad reveal towards the end of the movie but if one is a acute enough of a viewer to figure this out it is not a surprise, unfortunately this view was not.
There is a moment in the film when the narration talks of the person being trapped in one’s own body. This is hinting at the idea of one’s own body being a shell or a vessel for who one really is. If this is the fact why do Genesis and Lady Jaye feel the need to look like each other? There are some questions left un-answered, but I feel the characters themselves may not have an answer, either. Maybe those questions are left for the viewer to wrestle with. Having these questions does not detract from the film. As I have stated before this is an immersive film, where one gets a sense of the characters, but because of the complex characters there is still much that could be said.
The Cineaste article mentions as having Felliniesque or Guy Maddin feel to the way the film juxtaposes its images and narration. I could not agree more with these comparisons. Also in the article, this is its strength; for it fits its characters very well and a conventional “talking head” approach would not give us the same film. This is a whimsical documentary with engrossing characters.