For the past ten days, my husband, Clif, our daughter Dee, and I have been going to the Maine International Film Festival (MIFF) in Waterville, Maine. This is an annual festival that features movies, movies, and more movies. It encompasses two weekends, where the movies start at noon and can end at midnight. On those days, it is possible to see four movies, if the right choices are made. On the weekdays in between, the pace is a little more decorous, with the first movies starting at 3:00 or 3:30.
By my count 102 movies were shown at this year’s film festival. Naturally, it is not possible to see 102 movies in ten days, so filmgoers must study the program and try to choose movies that suit their tastes. Because all the blurbs in the festival program are written to entice moviegoers to each particular film, deciding which movie to see is not an easy process, and rash decisions are often made. As in, “Oh, what the heck! We have an open slot. Let’s just go see this one.” This path can lead to stinkers and clunkers, yet even these movies are not without value.
I’m not sure if The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye falls into the stinker or clunker category*. It was certainly amateurishly made, a documentary that spent far too much time allowing its subjects to mug it up in front of the camera. With its focus on bondage, sex, “pandrogyne,” and gender issues, the film came very close to being too explicit for my taste. (The program’s description of Ballad delicately skirts this focus.) The subjects of the film—Genesis P-Orridge and his wife and “artistic partner,” Lady Jaye, decided to show their devotion to each other by having their faces surgically altered so that they would more closely resemble each other. Genesis P-Orridge, who likes cross-dressing, took it one step further and had breasts implants as well. Not your average married couple and certainly not your average film.
However, despite this movie’s many flaws, I am not sorry I saw it. Genesis P-Orridge and Lady Jaye’s concern with androgyny seemed, well, sincere. For whatever reason—my guess it’s biological—some people do not feel comfortable with their gender and do not fit into the traditional notions of what it is to be male or female. Unfortunately, most societies have little tolerance for such people, who are often tormented and bullied unmercifully. The message I got from the film is that this unconventional couple wanted to show the world that gender can be fluid and that to embrace this fluidity is a form of enlightenment. I don’t know if I agree or disagree, but it certainly has given me something to think about.
Only at a film festival would I see a film like this, and it is one of the reasons I love MIFF.** We tend to bump along in our own little worlds with our own little circle of friends who, by and large, live as we do. Seeing The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye reminded me that there are other ways of thinking and being.
You might even call it food for thought.
*A clunker is a movie that merely falls flat. A stinker is a movie that’s just plain rotten. And, yes, I coined the terms.
**We also saw many good movies, including Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie; In Good Time, The Piano Jazz of Marian McPartland; Ito: A Diary of an Urban Priest; An Uncommon Curiosity: At Home and in Nature with Bernd Heinrich; and The Grove.