Reviews

Film Review: ‘The British Guide to Showing Off’

★★★★☆

Jes Benstock’s The British Guide to Showing Off (2011) opens with an animated sequence of a sparkling egg cracking open, with a wand-waving Andrew Logan appearing upon a statue of Pegasus. He races across London to sprinkle his friends and family with glitter, and with a touch of his wand they are transformed into glamour queens. It’s a fitting introduction to a film that documents the life and times of British artist, flamboyant eccentric and creator of the Alternative Miss World pageant.

Inspired by the Crufts dog show motto ‘Personality, originality, poise’, Logan designed a show that celebrates creativity and freedom of expression on a grand scale. The first pageant was held at an abandoned jigsaw factory a year after Eric Morley’s original Miss World, in an era when both the feminist and gay rights movements were beginning to grow. Importantly, Logan’s show was as much a reaction to contemporary socio-political issues as it was about having fun.

The history of the show is brought to life with a combination of talking heads, witty Monty Python-esque animation, and archive footage. Benstock was fortunate enough to have access to a wealth of resources, including black and white Polaroids, television recordings, the late filmmaker Derek Jarman’s Super 8 stock, and Logan’s personal footage.

The Alternative Miss World made an impact from the very start, influencing fashion designers such as John Galliano and Alexander McQueen, and brought together Logan’s family and friends from the UK arts scene. David Hockney judged the first show, David Bowie couldn’t get into the overcrowded second one, and Jarman won the third as Miss Crepe Suzette. It’s impossible not to admire a beauty contest in which the winner’s throne has been a donkey and where other champions have included a 90-year-old woman and a robot called Miss Rosa Bosom.

Every pageant is bolder and more outrageous than the last, and the only boundary is the imagination. Logan presents the event in a dual male/female costume designed by Zandra Rhodes, playing the double role of host and hostess throughout the night. This collapse of conventional gender binaries embodies the idea of the show as a whole, with men dressing as women, women dressing as teacups, and bodies of all shapes on display in see through costumes, wigs, nipple tassles, and gallons of glitter and garish paint.

The British Guide to Showing Off features contributions from many of the show’s guests, judges and co-presenters, including Grayson Perry, Brian Eno, Divine, Rula Lenska, Richard O’Brien and Amy Lamé, as well as Logan’s siblings and parents who have all taken part. Yet it never feels like a private party for the elite and well-connected, Benstock emphasising that it is an inclusive, non-judgemental space in which anyone can participate and transform themselves into anything they desire, regardless of age, gender or size. Logan is a real showman who revels in spectacle and in the surreal and bizarre, but he is also likeable and refreshingly unpretentious in his attempt to redefine what is beautiful.

Holly Cooper