Interview w/ Infamous Sphere

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Louisa Giffard operates under the moniker Infamous Sphere, and her erudite, clever, and often times humorous reviews perforate the realm of dull film criticism. Exclusively covering movies and shows that tick the boxes of LGBT, period dramas, or LGBT period dramas, Giffard creates a pastoral process of art, critical thought, and amazing clothing. Cinema Spartan interviewed Infamous Sphere about everything from Keanu Reeves to gouache.

 

Robert Patrick: Your video reviews are a rich tapestry of academia and humor – not many people can bridge those two. What, in your mind, makes for compelling and unique criticism?

Louisa Giffard: Well thank you! What I like in a review is when someone brings their own expertise and opinions to the table. Feeling strongly about something is probably the driving force for good criticism – or at least entertaining criticism. This is why I chose to have criteria for what I was going to review – both because the market is pretty saturated with reviews of, say, current releases, and because it helps to narrow one’s focus in pretty much anything in life. It’s good to have some degree of restriction – if the possibilities are literally endless it can be unfathomably overwhelming. I chose to review LGBT content and period dramas because I felt that those were the genres that I watched the most of, that other people didn’t watch nearly as much. I do watch other things in other genres, but those two genres feel distinctive to myself and I feel strongly about them. It’s also interesting to hear some historical background, research or information about something that you find interesting or entertaining, so I try and bring a bit of that to the table. I did a degree in visual arts, and have a little bit of a background in analysing culture and artistic works. You can definitely go up your own arse with the analysis if you’re not careful, but when you’re doing it outside of the field of academia and you don’t have to analyse anything or pad out a word count, you can be selective and clever and only make a comparison or an analysis when you truly believe it’s interesting or important to understanding the context behind the work. It’s not for everyone but when reviewing something from the past, I like to think about how it would have been viewed at the time, what laws and restrictions and societal conditions were in place, and how that would have affected the work. I definitely started doing that in university; it comes directly from the academic background. If you watch a film from the 1960s and say it looks crappy, or that the queer characters are offensive or whatever else – yes, that’s your impression, but you’re also missing half the story. What did people think when they saw it back then; did it mean anything? Was it progressive or offensive? Does it hold up, or is it just an academic curiosity? How does it compare to now? All great questions, and usually they lead you down an interesting path.

It’s always interesting when someone has a unique perspective on something – whether that’s because they work in a rare profession, or they come from a particular generation or culture, their sexuality or gender identity isn’t heteronormative, or they have a disability or so on. Your life experience and your knowledge definitely affect how you view popular media, and it’s important to recognise and value those diverse perspectives. Humour can be difficult. My first reviews were focussed a lot more on making jokes, but over time I’ve become rather more serious. I sometimes wonder if it would be better if I were a little funnier. Since I do my work alone, I don’t have anyone to bounce off, and I’m probably at my funniest when I’m in conversation with someone.

Finally, I became a reviewer because I wanted to share my interest and love for certain genres of films, but I also became a reviewer for the same reason that I decided to be a very outwardly gay person. When I was a lot younger (over 10 years ago) and realising that I was gay, I didn’t know anyone who was. There was very little representation that was easily accessible to a young teen, I didn’t have anyone I could talk to about it and didn’t even have the internet. While it definitely wasn’t as bad as many people’s experiences, it wasn’t fun at all and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. When I got past that early stage, I decided that I never wanted anyone to go through what I’d gone through, so I decided to be very out. That way, anyone who knew me would know at least one queer person that they could talk to. It’s not a decision that’s right for everyone, but I was lucky enough to be in a position where I could make that choice. Not only has it been easier for me (top coming out tip – if you come out to someone when they still barely know you, they don’t care! It’s not a big deal to them!) but I feel like I’ve had a chance to help people. In a sense, my reviewing is an extension of that desire to be visible; to be available as a resource for other people. That’s not really a case of my criticism being particularly excellent, but I’ve been lucky enough to have people reach out to me because of what I do, and I hope that I’ve been able to help them.

If Keanu Reeves remade Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, for whatever reason, would you still like him? Let’s assume the Kevin Spacey character was played by Michael Sheen. And the Jude Law part was played by avant garde brat Miles Teller. Sold, or no?

I’d be very eager to see how that turned out, as it sounds incredibly absurd. I also absolutely love Keanu – in my mind, even when he’s terrible, he’s good. Michael Sheen could definitely pull off Southern Gothic Gentleman, and Keanu is definitely an upgrade from Cusack. Miles Teller? I haven’t yet seen him in anything; but even if he’s terrible, he’s only in the film about three and a half minutes so I think I can stand him. Unless of course Keanu completely restructures the story and makes it a lot shorter and removes the pointless love interest? I enjoyed the original book, but Eastwood really stuffed around with the story and made one hell of a mediocre movie out of it. Keanu’s movie might be a trainwreck, but I’m sure it’ll be an interesting trainwreck.

I’ve re-watched your review of Little Ashes at least six times. I cant get enough of these marionette lines. Would you reconsider ever watching the film again, if only to make a second review, or is that too much heightened pain?

I’m not sure I could really add anything in a second review! Maybe if I studied Dali further; I’m sure a Dali scholar could say something very entertaining about that film’s adaptation. Or maybe if I were watching the film with Rpattz himself, and I could turn to him during the wanking scene and ask him why the hell he felt so unable to fake a convincing orgasm that he chose to masturbate to real. Maybe I could ring up Javier Beltran and get Rpattz to apologise to him for subjecting him to that.

You create your own artwork for the title sequences of your reviews. Which piece is your favorite? And, on a secondary level, which was the most difficult to complete?

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Far From Heaven, Louisa Giffard

Originally the artworks were going to be a silly little aside; the sort of sketch I’d do in about half an hour to have something to serve as the episode’s title card. However, they eventually started to get more and more elaborate, and took longer and longer, and began to be pieces of art in their own right. The turning point was the one I did for Far From Heaven. I felt that the movie was too serious to be served by a ridiculous sketch of me pulling a face at the characters, so I put genuine effort and time into trying to capture some of the visual mastery of Todd Haynes’ film. Since then, I’d say the average title card usually takes several hours to do, and I treat them like an illustration brief. I’m grateful to myself in a weird way, because by having to illustrate an episode, I’m giving myself a set brief, something to illustrate. One of the hardest things about creating art is coming up with the ideas. The actual creation usually isn’t the challenging bit; once you have those skills, it’s the creativity and the constant need to come up with an idea that will work and that’s worth exploring that drains you. Here, I’m removing that constraint. Sometimes the title cards are the only art I’m actually doing at any one time, and they give me a reason to continue making art. I sometimes wonder what are the hardest to illustrate – films where the visual style is so overwhelmingly beautiful that you can’t pick a scene or a moment you want to highlight, or films that are so dull and flat and ugly looking that you can’t pick a single moment that stands out or inspires you? Both of them have their own challenges.

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Women in Mad Men, Louisa Giffard

It’s hard to say what my favourite is, but I’m very happy with the piece I did recently for my review of Mad Men’s female characters. It’s an imitation of a commercial illustration style from the 60s, casting me in the role of an illustrator in an art department. I used gouache, which was the medium a lot of the commercial artists at the time were using, and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to pull it off since it’s not a paint I use very much or enjoy using, but what I ended up with definitely evoked the time period.

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$20 Note, Louisa Giffard

The most difficult to complete is also a hard one. Some people have really recognisable faces and are easy to paint a good likeness of, but others are harder to pin down. Some movies give you a lot to work with, and others give you very little. Sometimes I try to imitate a particular illustration style and it doesn’t quite work. If I were being really honest, I’d pick one of the ones that I thought didn’t end up looking very good, that I felt almost ashamed of using as a title card. Instead, I’m going to show you the one for Sara Dane, where I re-created an Australian $20 note as an homage to Mary Riebey, the convict inspiration for Sara’s character.

When will you review Gregg Araki’s Kaboom? How much do you not want to review Gregg Araki’s Kaboom?

I feel with Gregg Araki that it’s one and done. Mysterious Skin is really the only one I wanted to see. As a general rule, I don’t think Araki’s general schtick appeals to me, but i could be wrong. That said – if you’re really desperate to have me review Kaboom, it’s an achievable goal! One of my Patreon categories is that the patron can choose any film or miniseries for me to review, as long as it fits my criteria (if it’s LGBT, if it’s a period drama or both) and I have to review it. Granted, I have the ultimate power of veto, but I probably wouldn’t exercise it unless the property were pornography, heinously long, impossible to obtain or unsubtitled and in a language I don’t understand. Or, you know, it didn’t fit the criteria.

Your outfits are always on point. Talk about your outfits, please.

I got into sewing quite a while ago, when I was still at school, and I had a lot of fun developing my own style through making clothing. Before I sewed and knitted, I didn’t much care what I wore. I’m often still lazy with my regular day-to-day outfits, but the possibilities are always there; the idea that if I want something I can find a way to make it. When I started reviewing I modelled a lot of my look and the structure of my show on what other people were doing. I decided that I needed a “review outfit” to make reshoots easier and to be consistent. I also wanted it to be something that wouldn’t be too warm or too cool to wear, so that I could wear it more or less all year round and be Ok. The Infamous Queer shirt was originally a large men’s shirt that I found in a second hand shop. I couldn’t think of what to do with it for probably about two years, but on a whim one day I decided to make it as dandyish and flamboyant as possible. I changed the size of it, recut it to fit me, and then came the frills and the lace. Naturally when I started my show I went “oh, I’ll wear that horrendously campy shirt I made!” So now it’s my Infamous Queer shirt.

In case you’re wondering, I did wear that shirt as regular clothing before I began my show; I used to wear it to university among other things.

Unfortunately, despite my plans, the Infamous Queer shirt isn’t really warm enough to wear in a house in winter, so I decided to knit a jumper to wear in the cooler months. The Infamous Queer jumper was something I developed myself. I drew up a chart for the words, dyed a bunch of cream wool various colours and went from there. The period drama drama outfits are a whole other separate, wonderful thing. Before I started the show I occasionally sewed the odd period costume, because I loved the aesthetic and wanted to have the experience of sewing and wearing something dramatic and evocative of another time. When I began my show I decided that I’d wear an appropriate period costume for every period drama drama episode, or as close as I could get it. I’m in no means historically accurate; most of my outfits have zips and I don’t wear a corset or anything like that. The average historical re-enactment and historical costuming enthusiast would scoff at my efforts. However, I have a lot of fun trying to come up with an outfit that will give me the look I want.

Sometimes I have something sitting around the house already, like the outfits I wore for the first few period dramas. Other times, I decided to make something specially, which takes a good deal more effort and resources. The Mad Men suit was made from a pattern from the 1960s, and is made of wool and silk. The Downton Abbey outfit and the A Single Man outfit were based on what characters in the film wore, and involved me taking screencaps, doing sketches and trying my hardest to re-create the outfits. They weren’t always perfect, and often didn’t look the best on me (an outfit that looks cute on a seven year old girl doesn’t tend to look so great on a grumpy adult woman) but the challenge was always fun and it was great to be able to wear something specific to the film I was reviewing. Unfortunately, it does mean that I’ll never review as many period dramas as I do queer content. Well – there’s two reasons. One, is that period dramas tend to be television series and those are more difficult and time consuming to review, because they’re longer. The other, is the challenge of having to make or assemble an outfit specific to everything I want to talk about. It takes time.

If you’re wondering about my skills in clothing, some of it’s self taught and some of it’s formalised study. I started university majoring in textile arts, but changed my major to print media. I took an art theory course in the history of fashion and costume, which, along with my own research, informed some of my understanding of fashion history. Much more recently I did a trade certificate in clothing production, which is the sort of regimented and very exacting production techniques used in the fashion industry and the commercial production of clothing. You can learn a lot of what I know from experimenting, trial and error and using internet tutorials, but having the formalised study is definitely helpful and really assists you in lifting your game. I’m far better at production and pattern making after having had that training.

Is “David”, the needlessly combative Youtuber, still following you?

Oh, David.

First, a little background. I got a pretty big spike in subscribers and viewers after I was mentioned on Matt Baume’s youtube channel (Matt Baume runs a podcast about the importance of pop culture as an influence in the lives of gay men, and he also talks about politics and the battle for equal marriage.) David was one of those newcomers. He left a comment on my review of Blue is the Warmest Colour that was definitely impassioned. My review wasn’t kind to the film, and obviously he had an emotional response to that, which is understandable. Blue is the Warmest Colour must have resonated with him, and probably felt important to him.

However, some of the things he said in the comment were rather mean-spirited. He implied that my dislike of the film indicated dissatisfaction with my life – that I’d attacked it because I felt jealous of the characters and what they had with each other. When I started reviewing I mentally prepared myself for the inevitability that people wouldn’t always be nice. I’ve seen other people be personally attacked and abused the minute they got a certain amount of viewers and exposure, and I was anticipating that at some point it would eventually happen to me.
It didn’t really happen for a long time, until I moved over to Youtube. Now I’m happy to say that I’ve had attacks on my appearance, perplexing comments telling me not to combine crossdressing and youtube (what does that even mean?) and someone telling me that I was irritating and to stick to reviewing “dyke prison rape movies”.
I probably should have ignored David’s comment, but it was well-thought out and coherent, if a little condescending – and so I decided to respond. He then replied, and his tone was noticeably more civil.

I’m not trying to be condescending in return, but it’s almost as if when I responded, David realised that I was someone who existed in real life, rather than a nebulous “internet person.” He might not have consciously thought that I’d read his comment and that I’d have a reaction to it in the way that he might react if someone had said something similar to him. In a sense, it’s a lesson that everyone has to learn at an eventual point – that people on the internet are real. Just because you have the ease of commenting, doesn’t mean that they won’t be able to read what you say, or that it won’t affect them or give them pause. I’ve definitely made that mistake myself in the past – saying things about people that weren’t particularly well thought out or respectful, and then having to apologise when it turned out that they were hurt by my remarks.

Sometimes it does feel like a personal attack to hear someone ridiculing or dismissing something you like. I try to be fair to everything I review, but in the end, my reviews are subjective rather than objective judgments. Sometimes I genuinely do hate something or find it offensive, and sometimes I ridicule something that meant something significant to someone – but I’m definitely not trying to attack the viewer if they liked it.

So yes, David became nicer; he subscribed to my channel and he left a nice comment for me as well. I feel a little bad about reposting his comment elsewhere, but I’m genuinely glad he responded.

What do you have planned for the Oscars this year? And how many times do you think Tilda Swinton will levitate while in the audience?

I’ve never watched the Oscars. The time zone isn’t always conducive to viewing the ceremony (I think it’s usually around 9 or 10 am my time?) and after a few weird Academy decisions, I’ve decided not to care about them. Of course, I’ll always wish that certain actors, directors or film professionals got recognition for their work, and feel annoyed that others did in their place, but it’s not always the best indicator of quality or whether I’ll like something. Tilda Swinton is probably always levitating, but most of the time she’s only levitating about 2mm, so you can’t really see it. Incredible self control on her part.

Have you ever considered starting your own podcast? This has been a selfish question with pretty good intent.

I have! Only recently though, as I wasn’t really a podcast listener when I started my reviews. The last two to three years I’ve really gotten into them, I think they’re a wonderful format. Podcasts can be funny and so interesting, and they’re a good way to prevent your mind from shattering into a million pieces while doing a mediocre or mundane task, or painting leaves for 5 hours.

I did some dramatic readings recently of a terrible book I read called The Dinosaur Feather. Not that many people listened to them, but they were so enjoyable to do and the editing and production process was thousands of times faster than creating video. I’m not sure if I’ll do a podcast but if I do I think it would be me reviewing and discussing queer and historical novels. I got into queer and historical stuff through literature before I got into it through film and TV, and some of the finest queer fiction and historical fiction I’ve experienced was in novels. But I can’t really talk about them on the show, because novels aren’t visual, and it would either be horrible for the viewer (having to look at my face for 15 minutes straight) or for me (having to edit together relevant images for 15 minutes.) A podcast would solve that problem. I’m not sure if there’s much of a call for solo podcasts though. Most of them seem to have at least two hosts, and I’m a pretty solitary worker.

Finally, who was your favorite movie character of 2016?

2016? Do you mean 2015? Barely anything’s come out yet. I can’t give you an answer for 2016 because I don’t think I’ve seen any films that came out in 2016. In Australia we tend to get our films released significantly later than Britain and the US. It can be a week or two, or it can be as much as three months. As a consequence, most of the January releases were actually 2015 films. Obvious answer for 2015 would be Imperiator Furiosa from Mad Max: Fury Road – but I’m also going to give a shout out to Bathsheba Everdene in Far From the Madding Crowd, with her general quiet determination and excellent dorset buttons. I’ll also give a hand to Hugo Weaving’s cross-dressing policeman character in The Dressmaker.

 

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Author: Rob Patrick

A member of the San Diego Film Critics Society, Rob created Cinema Spartan after he stepped down as the editor of a weekly. He has written for The East County Californian, The Alpine Sun, The East County Herald, The San Diego Entertainer, and the San Diego Reader. He has also introduced films with the Pacific Arts Movement. He co-owns two dire wolves, Buckley and Ruffin. At any given time, he can tell you superfluous hockey statistics. He is the chancellor of Tapatio, an advocate of iced tea, and an owner of at least 70 pairs of Vans.

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