The British Guide To Showing Off

The British Guide To Showing Off

****1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Jes Benstock's documentary is a big glittery hug of a celebration of both the life of counter-culture mastermind Andrew Logan and the British artist's gloriously over-the-top brainchild Alternative Miss World.

Plunging us immediately into Logan's sparkling, multi-faceted universe by way of an opening sequence that has more than a touch of the Wizard Of Oz about it, scenes from one of the Alternative Miss World events play out as voices tumble over one another to talk about what these periodical bacchanales mean to them. "Risk, chaos extremity, politics" mingle with, "He throws the most fabulous parties in the world" as we see Logan, half-dressed as a man, half as a woman, surrounded by some of the most out-there fashion it is possible to imagine as everyone from John Maybury and Derek Jarman to a 78-year-old from Russia and a robot compete to be crowned Alternative Miss World.

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The perfect embodiment of English eccentricity, Logan - whose work has an emphasis on the fantastical and frequently features shards of glass or mirrors (his site is here, if you want a better idea) - has the perfect public schoolboy accent married to an outrageously skewed, but rather lovable, world view.

"I'm the last stand, I think," he says. "Alternative has been beaten out."

This rather downbeat assessment is certainly not borne out by Benstock's film, which serves to illustrate that, thankfully, counter-culture is a living, breathing entity that may change according to the world that surrounds it but still has more to offer than outrage. Mixing footage of the preparation for the 2009 Alternative Miss World, interviews with Logan and a plethora of artists, filmmakers and others who have taken part in his Alternative Miss Worlds and been inspired by him, with a decoupage-style scrapbook of images of his artwork and photos from his past, Benstock paints a picture of the artist that is as multi-faceted and accessible as one of Logan's mirrored sculptures.

What is perhaps most interesting about Logan is that, although he is gay - and Alternative Miss World has come to be in some ways a celebration of acceptance of every sort of sexuality and cross-dress preference - his event is not confined to a specific community. Benstock shows that the flamboyance of dressing up is a marriage of sexual revolution and far more historic English folk tradition, such as Mummers plays. As Logan himself puts it, at its heart, his event is about "equality" and "transformation", whether that be from a man to a woman or from a woman to a box of After Eight mints. It is also, it must be noted, about getting outrageously drunk, having quite a bit of public sex, at least in the early years, and letting your hair down in the most complete way imaginable.

Although Benstock doesn't rub our noses in it, he also offers plenty of evidence of the influence of Logan beyond his period sparkly bashes - from the appearance of elements of the fancy dress on the catwalks of the world to the way he has stood up to to some of the more reactionary elements of the press with unending good humour or the inspiration he has offered to those from countries where Government oppression rules.

Like Benstock's earlier short Holocaust Tourist, this is sharply edited, engagingly animated and offering more food for thought than might first appear, if you pay close attention. It's also much more fun than a documentary has any right to be.

Reviewed on: 17 Nov 2011
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The British Guide To Showing Off packshot
Celebration of the art of Andrew Logan and his Alternative Miss World.
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Director: Jes Benstock

Starring: Brian Eno, Andrew Logan, Richard O'Brien, Grayson Perry, Zandra Rhodes

Year: 2011

Runtime: 98 minutes

Country: UK

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