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“A True Download of Her Consciousness Into What Has Now Become a Feature Film”: Director David Charles Rodrigues On His Tribeca-Premiering S/He Is Still Her/e — The Official Genesis P-Orridge Documentary

Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge and Genesis P-Orridge

Biographies of artists have typical rises and falls, eddies into new enthusiasms and returns to consistent themes. But when it comes to musician, artist and cultural provocateur Genesis P-Orridge, such rhythms occur in truly outsized relief. In S/He Is Still Her/e — The Official Genesis P-Orridge Documentary, director Charles Rodrigues, whose previous Tribeca-premiering feature was Gay Chorus Deep South, proceeds biographically through P-Orridge’s life, from her childhood in Manchester through early assaultive work with the UK performance group COUM Transmission, industrial pioneers Throbbing Gristle and finally the more beatific psych-rock outfit Psychic TV. P-Orridge’s ultimate destination was the body-morphing Pandrogyny Project, a collaboration with partner Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge, in which the two artists had synchronous plastic surgeries to become “a single pandrogynous being.”

All of the above you would expect from a documentary with the word “official” in its title, and Rodrigues and editor Dylan Petrillo do an artful job of swiftly guiding us through these sometimes dizzying changes. P-Orridge, who died of leukemia in 2020, is featured in both new and archival interview footage, much of the former lensed while she was sitting for a portrait by artist Clarity Haynes and after her terminal diagnosis. Both playful and necessarily melancholy are these segments, but it’s elsewhere that the doc truly surprises through intimate accounts by daughters Genesse and Caresse of growing up in England and then California, staying in the basement of Wynona Ryder’s father and then, inadvertently, just adjacent to conspiracy-site Bohemian Grove.

I spoke to Rodrigues before the festival about discovering P-Orridge, leaning about Brion Gysin and more.

Filmmaker: What was your entry point to the work of Genesis P-Orridge? The movie proceeds pretty sequentially from childhood through Coum Transmissions through the later work with Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge and their Pandrogyny Project, but I’m interested in when you discovered Genesis. Which phase of her work made the immediate impact on you personally?

Rodrigues: As a teen growing up in Brazil, I was into dark industrial music. I liked Genesis’s bands, especially Psychic TV, but it was only much later in my late 20s when I discovered the Pandrogyne project — her body of work with Lady Jaye — that I was truly drawn into Gen’s entire creative universe. I’m a huge fan of artists/creators who are able to embed meaningful messages in artful, entertaining ways, and in this case it was an extreme way to express unconditional love and how through creativity and our consciousness we can transcend our bodies and journey into unconscious realms.

Filmmaker: In the press notes you mention not being familiar with Brion Gysin’s work when you met Genesis. I think the documentary does a good job of connecting Genesis’s overall artistic project with the work of Gysin, William Burroughs and others. What did you feel was intellectually important to include in this doc, and what was your own process like of exploring the work of these artists who impacted Genesis so much?

Rodrigues: Strangely, the whole reason I ended making this film was because Genesis visited me in a dream months before I met her. In the dream she put the palms of her hands onto mine and said, “Darling, I am transferring all of my knowledge to you now.” I woke up completely stirred. And then realized I had to meet Gen, and on the day we met she showed me a Brion Gysin quote in her book of interviews with him that said, “Wisdom can only be passed through the touching of hands.” So that concept of oral history, of mystical knowledge being passed on from Burroughs and Brion to Genesis and then onto me through this film was something that just naturally occurred in the narrative.

And, most importantly, Burroughs bestowed onto Genesis the mission to short circuit control (in culture), and Brion Gyson showed her the boundary-less possibilities of the world through his cut-up theory. Both of those moments, I believe, are the undercurrent of all of Genesis’s work till the day she passed. So it was crucial to weave them into the narrative. In some ways both Burroughs and Gysin were Genesis’s Yodas.

Filmmaker: Tell me about the decision to use Genesis’s sitting for a portrait by artist Clarity Haynes as a kind of structuring device for the documentary. Was that always the case or something you discovered in the edit? And, you are credited with your editor, Dilon Petrillo, as the doc’s writer. What were some of the larger decisions and approaches developed during the editing/writing process? What were the particular challenges in telling this story?

Rodrigues: First off, I want to express how crucial our editor Dillon Petrillo was to this entire process. He is a cut-up master himself and helped shape this film into what it has become.

Our choice of using the portrait sitting as our thread came early on. Genesis P-Orridge lived their art, sometimes to the extreme. Her scars, tattoos, mementos, the wear and tear of their flesh was a visual and metaphysical diary of her life — her body of work in the truest of senses. So following the insanely talented Clarity Haynes carefully painting each detail of Gen’s torso allowed us the perfect structure to carefully paint P-Orridge’s entire life story on film.

Filmmaker: When I heard Cosey Fanni Tutti’s interview audio early in the doc, I was surprised, because I was aware of the allegations she made about Genesis in her autobiography, Art Sex Music. It was several moments later in the doc — when you cite these allegations in a title card and say that Tutti “politely” declined to comment for the film – that I realized that this must have been acquired audio. What were the conversations you had about including Tutti’s charges in the film, and how did you decide to reference them fairly early on?

Rodrigues: I’m a fan of Cosey’s music (Chris and Cosey) and an admirer of all she has done since her Throbbing Gristle days. So I reached out to interview her for the film, and she was very polite and elegant in her decline. She played such a crucial role in Genesis’s life and early work that it was important to give her a voice, even within the limitations we had, and equally important to address her allegations, while still being mindful of her desire not to speak about it. The reason it comes early on was just due to the fact that the film is told in somewhat of a chronological order. It’s really hard to track and even convey Genesis’s messages, art, music and dramatic shifts in her lifetime(s) that a more classic narrative structure felt necessary.

Filmmaker: Genesis is the subject of an earlier documentary, The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye, that, while largely shot while Lady Jaye was alive, includes her tragic passing and Genesis’s life after that loss. As you note in the press notes, on the first day you met Genesis she revealed that she was diagnosed with terminal leukemia. How did this awareness of impending mortality inform the choices made in the film as well as your experience making it?

Rodrigues: That’s a great question.

Genesis P-Orridge had a larger-than-life hunger to create, and she kept creating until the very last days of her existence here on earth. So I guess the impending mortality gave the both of us a sense of urgency, and, thinking back on it now, it also gave Genesis the freedom to bare it all, knowing that she was opening up to someone for the very last time. My final interview with Gen happened only two weeks before her passing.

The heart of our collaboration, our spiritual contract as Gen would put it, was the total transference of knowledge from one being to another, a true download of her consciousness into what has now become a feature film. And can be transferred to anyone who watches it.

There have been films, books, art pieces and more about Genesis, but I think the one thing she really wanted in the end was for someone to be able to connect all the dots of her existence and it became my own mission to do exactly that.

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