Features: Andrew Logan, Ruby Wax, Zandra Rhodes, Brian Eno, Derek Jarman, Richard O’Brien and Grayson Perry.
Director: Jes Benstock
Running Time: 97 mins
SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL Screening - Sat 9 Jun 7.00pm.
A celebration of individualistic freedom by way of hedonism, Jess Benstock’s The British Guide to Showing Off is an affectionate profile of British avant-garde icon Andrew Logan and the landmark event he created in 1972, The Alternative Miss World Show.
Popping with an infectious joie de vivre that precisely captures the passion of the low-key but driven Logan, Benstock’s film utilises Python-esque animation, archival footage and personal interviews to paint a picture of the changing social and political landscape in which the underground gathering has existed all these years (a semi-annual event entirely dependent on philanthropic largesse, as Logan points out dejectedly at one point).
The retrospection is juxtaposed with preparations for the 2009 AMW Show, which was staged at The Roundhouse in London. The competition that comes in the wake of the drama of preparation is a sumptuous parade of gaudy excess and brash, funny personalities who laugh and bitch a lot. Benstock touches on the global importance of the event as a sub-culture celebration when he focuses in on a Nigerian entrant, who has survived abuse at the hand of African oppressors to attend the event in full regalia. It is an understated moment that subtly reinforces the importance of Logan’s bad-taste, anti-establishment agenda.
This raucous, at times coarse doco doesn’t have quite enough to say to sustain close to 100 minutes of screen time. The gay abandon of the OTT event is covered extensively, to the point where one begins to feel rather wallflower-ish, like being the only one at the party not taking drugs. Logan’s relationship with his partner and co-showrunner, Michael, is not as fully fleshed-out as it could have been, nor is the status of Logan within the current underground-art scene particularly explored (no reason is given for the nearly 4 year gap between much of the footage being shot and the films emergence).
But these relatively minor concerns can be shrugged off, as The British Guide to Showing Off is all about fearless self-expression and celebrating an eccentric personality of clear vision and determination. Much like Andrew Logan himself, it will NOT be everyone’s cup-of-tea, perhaps explaining the Sydney Film Festival’s decision to screen it free-of-charge for one session only in the midtown meeting-place venue, The Hub. Regardless, it is an undeniably vibrant experience.