The British Guide to Showing Off: Palm Springs Review
Jes Benstock’s exuberant documentary follows the London performance-art rave known as Alternative Miss World.
David Hockney was a judge, filmmakers Derek Jarman and John Maybury were contestants, and Divine was a host. The glam-orific event in question, a London performance-art rave known as Alternative Miss World, has taken place a dozen times since 1972. Recapping the show’s history through its most recent edition, The British Guide to Showing Off celebrates the extravaganza and the nonconformists behind it. Jes Benstock’s exuberant documentary, which received its U.S. premiere at the recent Palm Springs International Film Festival, will click with audiences interested in the irreverent arts.
Event mastermind Andrew Logan is a sculptor who grew up with an appreciation for coronation regalia. He inaugurated the pageant a few years after graduating from Oxford (and dropping acid). Though it does crown a winner (Jarman, as Miss Crepe Suzette, took the title in 1975), Alternative Miss World is less contest than performance — tongue-in-cheek, silly, politically pointed or all of the above. Contestants young and old, gender-bending and not, create outlandish characters in often elaborate costumes. The film follows Logan’s plans for the 12th edition as he seeks sponsors and a venue and enlists a core group of charter participants.
Through archival clips and present-day interviews, the event’s importance among creators and appreciators of outré art and fashion becomes clear, but Benstock keeps things light and doesn’t impose a defining overlay on the material. Among the film’s talking heads, Brian Eno offers the most probing insights. Discussing the art world’s snob factor, he observes that Logan might have had a higher-profile career if his sculptures weren’t so uncomplicated in their joy.
In keeping with Logan’s approach to aesthetic pleasure, The British Guide emphasizes color and bright energy, with playful animation by Andrew Savage enhancing the party atmosphere.
Venue: Palm Springs International Film Festival
A Living Cinema production/A Microwave film in association with BBC Films and the Film Agency for Wales
With: Andrew Logan, Brian Eno, Grayson Perry, Zandra Rhodes, Richard O’Brien
Director: Jes Benstock
Producer: Dorigen Hammond
Cinematography: Denzil Armour-Brown, Andrew David Clark, Johnny Cocking
Music: Mike “Flowers” Roberts
Co-producer: Sue Jeffries
Design and animation: Andrew Savage
Editor: Stephen Boucher
No MPAA rating, 95 minutes