The British Guide To Showing Off is a feature-length documentary that looks at artist Andrew Logan and his anarchic creation, The Alternative Miss World Show, which has been going since 1972 and seen a heady mix of eccentrics and artists taking part and, well, showing off.
The movie follows Logan as he rather leisurely tries to organise 2009’s pageant, as well as charting the history of the event, which has seen everything from David Hockney judging the first, David Bowie not being able to get into the second and the whole thing even being won by a robot. At one point it even got into a court battle with the Official Miss World organisation, who objected to Logan’s event’s name (Miss World lost).
It’s an interesting story and an interesting event, which seems avant garde and fun, but also incredibly decadent and a tad pretentious (despite ostensibly being very open). In fact the whole thing is rather contradictory – a contest that’s against the exclusiveness and mainstream beauty hegemony of Miss World, but which is just as elitist and rarefied in its own way. It’s entrants are a mix of artists who think they can use OTT costumes and its parody of a beauty pageant to create performance art, as well as good old fashioned eccentrics and those who are just in it for a laugh (but who still take it pretty seriously).
You could argue that Miss World at least has appeal across class boundaries, while the Alternative Miss World seems slightly trapped in a rather particular, arty middle-classness. The documentary does show it trying to go beyond that, but there’s little doubt this ‘living sculpture’ lives in its own little world, half by design and half by necessity.
Logan is also a bit of a divisive figure. Artist (and former Alternative Miss World contestant) Grayson Perry describes him as being ‘Like a naughty auntie who’ll tip gin into your tea’, but he also seems to live in a rather detached, arty world, with little appreciation that it takes the work of others to let him stay there. While he’s busy being an artist and saying how it wouldn’t be worth doing Alternative Miss World if he actually had to work at it, it appears others are running around like blue-assed flies making sure his ideas become reality. Personally I found him rather frustrating and in danger of disappearing up his own ass, but there’s little doubt the event he organises works as a wonderful showcase for all manner of ideas, eccentrics and show-offs.
Jes Benstock’s film is very well made, with a wonderfully quirky visually style, which allows it to get across a lot of information very quickly when it needs to.
Although the Alternative Miss World Show lives on, like the event it was set up in opposition to, it does seem like something of the recent past more than the present. Like Logan, it’s still slightly living in the 1970s and 1980s, a product of the early days of gay liberation and British eccentricity (to paraphrase Grayson Perry). It’s little surprise that Alternative Miss World was where legendary performance artist and champion of the most visible makeup-covered scream of 1980s gay visibility, Leigh Bowery, first came to prominence.
Whether you end up liking or loathing Alternative Miss World, the documentary, like the event, at least tries to be ecumenical and allow entry to everyone. It’s an interesting look into a long-running and fascinating event, and if you get the chance, the documentary is well worth dipping into whether you like this sort of eccentric, middle-class artiness or not.
Overall Verdict: Alternative Miss World is definitely an interesting event, but like its creator, Andrew Logan, it’s likely to be loved and loathed in equal measure, and while informative, the documentary could perhaps have asked a few more questions of its subject.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac