The British Guide To Showing Off* Review

Film Still
  • The British Guide To Showing Off film still


An immediately likeable documentary portrait of the Alternative Miss World pageant.

Perhaps the most interesting moment in Jes Benstock’s immediately likeable documentary portrait of the Alternative Miss World pageant – an outsider art spectacle of chaotic counter-culture and cross-dressing devised by multi-skilled artist Andrew Logan – comes in its closing movement, as a young Nigerian approaches the organisers.

Dismissed for missing the point ("She rang up saying she wanted to represent Nigeria… I said we don’t do that") Miss Nigeria nevertheless arrives: a young man with scars on his body from persecution in his homeland.  After performing he is singled out backstage, told that he was ‘fabulous’, and responds with a wet-eyed beam of gratitude.

It’s a testament to Benstock’s direction that he has managed to express the irrepressibly benevolent heart of his subject while keeping such moments of social commentary a potent minority.

Started by Logan in 1972 and running intermittently since then whenever he and partner Michael can raise the funds, the pageant functions as an inclusive open-entry bad-taste drag spectacular, sometimes inverting the survival-of-the-prettiest body politik of the original Miss World, sometimes settling for pure pleasurable anarchy.

Contestants create outré drag personas and perform in nominal daywear, swimwear and eveningwear categories (one contestant fulfilled the brief by dressing as three types of potato dish, including mashed and chips).

Contributors and fans include Derek Jarman (winner of the third pageant as Miss Crêpe Suzette), Brian Eno and David Bowie. The British Guide to Showing Off traces the 2009 pageant from organisation to fruition, blending fly-on-the-wall footage with archive film, talking heads (including Eno and Jarman) and pleasing Gilliam-esque animation that echoes the hotch-potch aesthetic of the pageant.

Star of the show Logan is described variously as an Egyptian high priest and a naughty auntie, and appears to be an unsung national treasure – a man who rejected Andy Warhol’s advice on how to achieve commercial success and a throwback to '60s subversion still politely offering a titillating space for his patrons to peel off their layers of societal constraint and wallow in cathartic taboo.

If the event is a fraction as charming as Benstock’s film, it deserves to move just a little closer to the mainstream’s radar.

comments powered by Disqus