THE BRITISH GUIDE TO SHOWING OFF (15): On General Release Friday 11th November
Your average drag queen does not have it particularly easy. Diabolical make-up, outlandish clothes and generally pretty awful karaoke singing are some of the kinder stereotypes associated with those who enjoy donning the occasional dress.
Rid your mind of such crass nonsense and replace those seedy tropes with notions of “high art” and an “underground revolution” over which the queens reign supreme. Welcome to the eccentric, intriguing, repulsive, beautiful spectacle that is “The Alternative Miss World” aka The British Guide to Showing Off.
Jes Benstock follows cult icon and artiste, Andrew Logan, as he embarks on his quest to stage the 2009 AMW and keep the alternative scene alive. “It’s pretty much disappeared”, Logan laments as he is taxi-driven through the busy streets of central London wearing a shade of yellow not dissimilar to Big Bird. Logan is an instantly likeable character and the film explores his passion for the bizarre, tracing it back through his astonishingly average upbringing through to his wild seventies hay day and into the noughties.
Logan’s unique brand of artistic collage and glittery fabulousness is reflected in Benstock’s bespoke film, creating a wholly beautiful viewing experience. The Monty Python-esque animations tell viewers the story of Logan’s rise to high priest of all things alternative and, funnily enough, his manner is not dissimilar to a man of the cloth. Logan even admits that he wanted to be a priest when he was growing up. Why? Because of the fabulous regalia, the lovely home and regular village fetes of course. He is also a huge fan of the Royals – can’t get enough of those golden orbs and all the jewels.
The Alternative Miss World is described by previous entrants and co-hosts as ” the fertility rituals of a lost tribe” and “a bit like being in a superstore of sweets and sex”; probably not be everyone’s cup of tea. But despite its outrageous claims, what comes across in this insightful film is the truly British spirit of the whole affair. The closing shot shows Logan and his partner strolling through a lush, green field discussing the next show in 2012. “We have to start planning NOW”, they agree. This is a competition which embraces madness and eccentricity; it is an event which celebrates and rewards the underdog. Could it be any barmily British?
The broken mirrors and shimmering glitter which adorn Logan’s creations reflect his multi-faceted view of life and beauty. Benstock takes inspiration from this magpie in compiling stories and perspectives from the likes of Brian Eno, Ruby Wax, Richard O’Brien and Amy Lame and succeeds in creating an exciting, stylish film.
Some viewers may experience the same sensory overload which can begin to creep in at about the half way point of many Baz Luhrman extravaganzas, but complete immersion into this other-world is essential in appreciating its aim. Past winners of the illustrious title include men dressed as women, women dressed as men and robots alike. A specific gender and a beating heart are not pre-requisites for entry. Diversity and blurred reality are king (or rather, queen) in this domain and rather than wanting “world peace”, these contestants are hoping to cause some serious disruption.