Louche British artist Andrew Logan is the brains behind the Alternative Miss World event, not an annual occasion like the official Miss World is, but cobbled together whenever he can raise the funds for it. We follow him as he tries to arrange the 2009 contest in the face of mounting costs, but buoyed by the support of all those who wish to take part, whether they be on the stage dressed in outrageous costumes or in the appreciative audience. The way Logan sees it is as a work of personal art, the competitors transforming themselves for a night into incredible butterflies, and if that means getting naked or adorning themselves with deeply impractical costumes, so much the better...
Director Jes Benstock trailed around after Logan for this documentary which contrasted the glitzy event itself with the amount of hard work and preparation that went into having fun, which created a tension between the sheer hedonism and the more down to earth business of actually paying for it, something that tended to bring down the mood when you knew Logan and his team were putting their life savings on the line for the sake of their good time, and all those other people who showed up. The film also operated as a potted history of the event, which had luckily been well-documented down the years, including another feature which went to cinemas in the late seventies.
That was largely because it was presented by one of the most famous, not to say transgressive, drag queens around at the time, Divine, who was about as far from Danny La Rue in demeanour as it was possible to get, not that you would imagine Danny would have been turned away as the general theme was inclusion (though granted not everyone would wish to be included), as long as you were happy to get dressed up to the nines, and even if you weren't you were welcome to watch from the audience. You could imagine a Dame Edna Everage going down very well here, however, as a sense of humour was most important in the whole experience, obviously in the costumes that the participants donned. Those could range from meticulously fashioned frocks to cheerfully home made affairs.
It's no surprise that The Alternative Miss World was embraced by the gay community, and for much of its life when the media was telling the public that the overall state of homosexuality was more or less a miseryfest what with angry reactions to the lifestyle from the more reactionary quarters of the straight majority to the spectre of AIDS looming over it all, this occasion was an unabashed indulgence in the lighter, brighter side. Thus you do get the sense of empowerment thanks to Benstock's well-chosen clips and animations, that feeling that anything goes as long as it doesn't harm anybody, indeed any negativity appears to be the last thing on anyone's mind, anyone involved with the show that is because every so often the film has to acknowledge not everyone saw the funny side.
When Logan spruces up a village fete with his glitz it's interesting because Benstock takes care to capture the expressions on the villagers' faces, ranging from mild disgust and embarrassment to a glad happiness that here was a measure of glamour and unironic silliness in their celebrations. Then we see the footage of the AMW and the contestants and crowd are throwing themselves into the appreciation of the entertainment with wild abandon and it may seem entirely alien to some viewers, not least because a lot of the participants genuinely do look like aliens. There are talking heads dotted around the film, from Brian Eno who makes the point that the "popular" (is this popular?) should not be frowned upon to Richard O'Brien (co-host one year) who observes his Rocky Horror phenomenon owed much to Logan. Ruby Wax, the co-host of the 2009 event we see prepared and finally achieved against the odds, makes a telling comment that there was nothing deliberately exclusive about Logan's art and events, unlike other art movements, and that comes across in a warm but pragmatic film.