The Alternative Miss World seems like the perfect idea for a beauty pageant. By leaving the typical notions of attractiveness at the door, it is almost a celebration of imperfection. It was also the brainchild and baby of British artist, Andrew Logan.
The first pageant was held in 1972 and true to its anarchic roots has been held intermittently ever since. The British Guide To Showing Off sees director Jes Benstock track this camp and colourful group of misfits, giving a history of the whole shebang, with a particular focus on the twelfth installment in 2009.
This movie – just like the pageant itself – is all about no rules. The proceedings are a heady mix of chaos and nostalgia plus Mardi Gras, circus sideshow, dress-up, drag queens and sideshow oddities. After all, “Miss” over the years has come to include an 81-year old Russian woman; a robot; an oversized box of after-dinner mints; a woman as wide is she is tall; a slew of gender-bending blokes; and one memorable woman who entered the eveningwear, daywear and bikini rounds dressed as different styles of potato, including mash and chips. Really.
Over the years the festivities has had its fair share of celebrity hosts including Billy Connolly, Julian Clary and Divine. In 2009 the job went to Ruby Wax and she is interviewed here alongside Miss World alumni including Brian Eno and filmmaker, Derek Jarman who is also responsible for some of the earlier footage.
This documentary is a spicy media pastiche full of music, art, archive footage, photographs, cartoons and new interviews fused together as one crazy, non-conformist spectacle. There is plenty of cavorting, self-expression, nudity, bondage, provocateurs and passion. Logan is stylised as a strange concoction of Mad Hatter, Dr. Seuss and the Wizard of Odd and all the interviewees concur that he throws one hell of a party.
There’s no denying that The British Guide To Showing Off is full of outrageous fun and downright cheekiness. It should come as no surprise that the whole affair has influenced everyone from fashion runway designers and artists to the creators of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and the like. And yet, Logan’s family – rather amazingly – describe it all as one large family do. If so, this is easily one of the biggest and quirkiest family gatherings ever, especially when you consider members are often in bondage or the nude; others are like installation art pieces and the men seem to go to the most trouble letting their hair down. Weird.
For my money though, I would’ve preferred a doco focusing on just Logan’s life. The interesting anecdote about Andy Warhol and Logan’s life in art, plus living through the sixties music scene and graduating to punk would have been more enticing. After a while this bizarre and madcap adventure begins to loose its impact and becomes a tad tiresome and repetitive as you witness yet another addition to the long line of exhibitionists. But it will also probably be a hit of the festival because of its parallels to Sydney, not to mention the fact that it is a gay, old romp with plenty of passion and panache.
The British Guide To Showing Off is the gaudiest and weirdest show you’ll see all year and a roller coaster ride through the underbelly of bedlam. This chaos includes a bunch of like-minded, underground souls coming together to celebrate self-expression, originality and personality. In all, it’s like a no-barriers collusion of the art, gay and clubbing scenes and is one intoxicating and glittery party with some divine, twisted sisters.
Review score: 3 stars
Originally published on 8 June 2012 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/sydney/sydney-film-festival-2012-review-the-british-guide-to-showing-off-ctc
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