Reviewed by GREG KING


Director: Gracie Otto.

Image result for the last impresario gracie otto images

Michael White may be the most famous man you’ve never heard of. Indeed former model and actress turned filmmaker Gracie Otto (Three Blind Mice, etc) had never heard of White until she met him at a party at Cannes in 2010. She saw an elderly but elegant man holding court at one of the many parties at Cannes and was intrigued about him. She approached him, and after chatting to him for a while she was, to her surprise, invited to another party. The more she learned about White and his fascinating background though the more determined she was to make a film about this enigmatic figure.

After gaining White’s reluctant approval, Otto set out to make this revealing documentary that gives us plenty of insight into the man who was one of the leading producers in London during the 60s and 70s. We learn about his childhood when, as a rather sickly child, he was sent off to boarding school in Switzerland. But he flourished when he returned to London and became an integral part of the theatre scene, and it is suggested that the vibrant theatre scene of the 60s and 70s may not have happened without him. Indeed there are few producers around today to compare with White, not even the prolific Cameron Mackintosh who has given us shows like Les Miserables and The Phantom Of The Opera.

Not only did White produce many of the classic shows of London’s West End, like the thriller Sleuth, but he was something of an entrepreneur who also took on more risky and subversive projects. Thus he is the man who first gave us the early incarnation of the comedy troupe that became better known as Monty Python; he also championed Barry Humphries on the London stage long before Edna Everage, the housewife from Moonee Ponds, became a dame; he also produced The Rocky Horror Show; and gave us the all-nude revue Oh Calcutta! which shook up the more conservative elements of England at the time. At that time all live theatre shows had to be approved by the Lord Chamberlain, a position that had its origins in the days when Shakespeare was writing his famous dramas, but which was becoming less relevant in the era of television drama and live television.

Drawing upon interviews with many of the celebrities who knew Michael and who partied with him during his heyday, Otto manages to tease out a portrait of White as a vital, energetic and friendly man who knew just about everybody. Jack Nicholson declined to be interviewed for the film, but we still get the likes of Naomi Watts, Yoko Ono, John Cleese, Barry Humphries, Anna Wintour, Jim Sharman, John Waters and Kate Moss appearing on screen to talk candidly about the man and his enormous influence. Otto was also granted unprecedented access to a wealth of archival material and personal photographs that White had taken with a small camera he carried with him everywhere.

Otto gives us a revealing portrait, but she also appears on camera and her presence is something of a distraction. Her interviewing technique also leaves a lot to be desired. Now White, who is in his 80s, is clearly showing signs of age and the debilitating affects of a couple of strokes, and he is obviously uncomfortable about appearing on camera and talking about himself. White is also reticent to talk about how he lost the rights to The Rocky Horror Show when he tried to take the show to America. He reveals how gambling has also cost him a lot. During the film, White is forced to sell off many of his treasured artifacts, including signed letters from the likes of Laurence Olivier, through Sothebys.

There is a poignancy to the final scenes when White is presented with a life time award at the 2014 Olivier awards, and is wheeled out onto stage in a wheelchair. It is a little sad to see a man who was once so vibrant and full of life appear so frail. I almost expected to see a final footnote announcing his death, but thankfully he is still alive and still reasonably active.

The Last Impresario is a fascinating documentary about a fascinating man, and it is reminiscent of the fabulous The Kid Stays In The Picture, the 2002 documentary about the rise and fall of Hollywood producer Robert Evans. It manages to overcome the flaws and limitations of having been directed by a first time feature filmmaker.


For his Movies At Dusk program, Greg spoke to Gracie Otto about the film and about Michael White.

To listen click on the link below:

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