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All Under Control


Tribeca Festival


S/He Is Still Her/e – The Official Genesis P-Orridge Documentary (2024)

This film is subtitled "The Official Genesis P-Orridge Documentary," writer-director David Charles Rodrigues having received access to relevant family archives and the approval of the subject's daughters, attached here as executive producers. Whether official can mean definitive in this case is a different question. What would a definitive portrait even be of the English musician, performance artist, occultist, antagonist for the Britain's moldering Conservative establishment, loving parent, esotericist, associate of William S. Burroughs and protean engineer of their own identity in both mental and physical terms? Any 98 minute snapshot will only be a cross section, a slice through the matrix, a prompt to see how someone else's mapping of their own innerspace might shed some parallel light on your own.

Mr. Rodrigues's slice is structured around an interview with P-Orridge during their (the artist used plural and female pronouns) final stages of treatment for leukemia, from which they died in 2020. Sitting shirtless for a portrait — tattoos and surgical scars on show, oxygen being supplied - P-Orridge was bulky and imposing, no longer the kinetic elemental whose turbulent 1976 show at London's I.C.A. caused the Daily Mirror to hyperventilate about a "Bust Up At Gallery Of Porn." (Audiences from the old neighborhood will have their own matrix prodded by crackling footage of media folk like Janet Street-Porter and Nicky Horne bewildered by the fabulous new.) The voice, though, was still consistent in its contention: that Control, all the imposed restraints and conditioning of society, must be short-circuited. And it's the job of the artist to touch the bare wires together.

Control is the word that Mr. Burroughs also used; and the documentary puts P-Orridge squarely into the U.S. Beat-Psychedelic axis on equal terms with the movement's elders. Brion Gysin's Dreamachine, his stroboscopic device designed to stimulate the alpha waves of the brain, gives the documentary its initial visual hook and coda. P-Orridge told of an out-of-body experience brought on by flickering daylight during a car journey, exactly parallel to the hallucination during a bus trip that made Mr. Gysin conceive the Dreamachine in the first place. Pushed westward toward California - as British nonconformists inevitably were - P-Orridge circulated with Timothy Leary and with the family of Mr. Leary's god-daughter, providing the sweet historical data point of Genesis P-Orridge lodging in Winona Ryder's basement.

America also introduced P-Orridge to his second wife, Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge. Their joint Pandrogeny Project - involving surgical body modification to resemble one another and formation of a joint identify as Breyer P-Orridge, one single pandrogynous being - started some time before identity and gender issues became topics of mainstream conversation. Its relevance to those discussions is complicated, not least since the Project's goal was not to change the body but to be free of it, to "reject DNA as the arbiter of life." The documentary presents the ability to think of the idea, and others like it, as the ultimate freedom; a life as nothing but pure possibilities.


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