The Last Impresario

*****

Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

The Last Impresario
"Otto's sensitively structured portrait of an engaging Peter Pan draws us irresistibly into his world."

Gracie Otto's captivatingly energetic The Last Impresario bursts at the seams with interviews from prominent friends and collaborators of one-of-a-kind London artistic power player Michael White, who sing his praises with warmth and heart. Who is Michael White, the man with the ever present genial smile and the best sunglasses seen on film in a long time, who likes to sit on a strategically perfect bench leading up to the Hôtel du Cap, Cannes lanyard around his neck, saying "hi" not only to Mick Jagger but to every pretty girl who walks by?

Otto starts out by recounting how she met White at the opening night party of the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. He gave her his number to come to dinner and she decided to make a film about the man everybody famous was flocking to and most people had never heard of.

Michael White grew up in Glasgow with "lots of cousins" and in a "very warm environment," as his eldest son, Joshua, relays. Sent away to boarding school in Switzerland at age seven in 1943, where he felt lonely, Michael later studied at the Sorbonne, worked in New York and expanded his horizon to become an adventurous "internationalist".

Otto's sensitively structured portrait of an engaging Peter Pan draws us irresistibly into his world. Greta Scacchi, Rachel Ward, Barry Humphries, John Cleese, Wallace Shawn, Julian Sands, John Waters and many others speak of White's importance in their lives. André Gregory calls his friend "complex, funny, and very very warm." Gracie Otto, sister of Miranda Otto who starred in Bruno Barreto's Reaching For The Moon, takes full advantage of the access given to her by an amused Michael White, and shows her finely tuned interviewing skills.

The Last Impresario serves up visual celebrity candy out of baskets full of treasure, with White's private photo albums and letters to accompany the impressive array of keenly focused interviews and archival clips. Name a movie star or other public figure in swinging London and he probably took pictures of them at a party he hosted - from Prince Charles to Roman Polanski, from Nicole Kidman to Jack Nicholson, from Leonardo DiCaprio to Margaret Thatcher. Anna Wintour confirms his discerning eye for beauty: "He was by far the first person who spoke to me about Kate Moss."

As a producer in theatre and subsequently film, he took great risks and his influence on Great Britain discovering foreign theatre and dance is undeniable. Early on, he challenged the Lord Chamberlain, established in 1843, as completely outdated in the 1960s. John Cleese and Bill Oddie tell us about how White brought The Cambridge Circus to the West End. We find out about his pivotal and tumultuous role with Ken Tynan in giving the world Oh! Calcutta! and The Rocky Horror Picture Show stage production and film version.

White who, according to Cleese, has something of a shy Bond villain in him, and according to Yoko Ono is "cool looking like someone who came out of a 1930s film" took photos of his famous friends that often reveal an expression on their faces we haven't seen before. A piece of their soul they presented just for him.

Meryl Tankard, dancer in Pina Bausch's Tanztheater Wuppertal, which was first brought to London by White, recalls performing in Kontakthof, in which the many men in the company "did their tenderness on me." The pulling, licking, kissing and petting was tough for her, she says. This is one of several moments where the Last Impresario makes us connect the dots between the photos of beautiful starlets and endless parties. Otto is not interested in exposing individual scandals, but follows the "tentacles in all these different worlds", according to Anna Wintour, that make Michael so unique. "There is no such thing as a beautiful person unless there is something inside," he says.

John Waters speaks about the fun he had at the 1980 premiere of his Michael White produced film Polyester and the Odorama card at Cannes. John Cleese's rainy Monty Python And The Holy Grail experience turns into sunshine when he remembers White's enthusiasm for the project. Naomi Watts points to how much "he likes people," and Anna Wintour feels that "it seems I've always known Michael." Kate Moss calls him "the only one who could keep up with me," in regards to partying, that is.

Kate Moss at the Royal Opera House in London on April 13, 2014 presented Michael White the Olivier Special Award for outstanding achievement.

Reviewed on: 28 Oct 2014
Share this with others on...
The Last Impresario packshot
The story of producer and social butterfly Michael White.


Search database: