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The Last Impresario

Meet the man who discovered Monty Python, could keep up with the partying of Kate Moss, and caught the attention of documentarian Gracie Otto.
By Sarah Ward
June 23, 2014
By Sarah Ward
June 23, 2014

To those in the know, Michael White has long been the epicentre of the London entertainment scene, spreading his producing talents across the stage and screen in everything from Oh! Calcutta! to Monty Python and the Holy Grail to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. To those outside his orbit, his name remains unfamiliar even as his impact is inescapable. Documenting the untold story of his life and legacy, The Last Impresario dwells in the space between both extremes.

Australian actress and filmmaker Gracie Otto once fell into the latter category, until spotting White at the Cannes Film Festival in 2010. There he sat, surrounded by the who's who of the industry, and her curiosity was instantly piqued. They quickly made each other's acquaintance, formed a firm friendship, and the idea for the film was born.

In keeping with her enigmatic introduction to the now elderly entrepreneur, it is not White that monopolises Otto's insider look at his influence, but the myth of the charming man and the many people and projects that came under its thrall. A septuagenarian with declining health, he has a limited ability to tell his own tale, but there is no shortage of famous faces — from John Waters to John Cleese, Kate Moss to Anna Wintour, and Australians Greta Scacchi, Naomi Watts, Lyndall Hobbs and Barry Humphries — able to regale viewers with amusing anecdotes.

Of course, much of the fun comes in reliving his celebrity experiences with Jack Nicholson, David Bowie and the like, as meticulously photographed by avid snapper White and further catalogued in decades' worth of memorabilia. His life and the documentary that results is the ultimate act of star-spotting, filtered through a charismatic figure who should be better known than those he interacts with. Scacchi succinctly puts it best; he is "the most famous person you've never heard of".

Making her first full-length effort after a series of award-winning shorts, Otto is a naturalistic documentarian afforded ample access undoubtedly aided by her own movie pedigree (in addition to forging her own career, she is the daughter of Bliss's Barry and the sister of The Lord of the Rings' Miranda), yet only occasionally does she overplay her hand. Her visuals are vibrant, her interviews probe, but it is her tone that best impresses, celebrating the feature's subject while never shying away from the underlying melancholy of his less-than-ordinary existence.

Two areas skirted around — White's illness and finances — provoke unfulfilled intrigue; however, what does comprise the film paints a very interesting picture nonetheless. The feature's thesis, that they just don't make them like White anymore, is easily proven. In name and in nature, The Last Impresario colourfully charts the final remnants of dying breed.

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