Friday, June 27, 2014

THE LAST IMPRESARIO





Directed by Gracie Otto
Palace Cinemas from 26 June 2014

Review by Len Power

Australian actress, Greta Scacchi, calls Michael White, ‘the most famous man you’ve never heard of’.  Gracie Otto’s documentary film changes all that with an in-depth look at the man’s career and provides a fascinating look at the man himself.

Michael White is a British theatrical impresario and film producer whose list of credits includes many of the most memorable shows of the past 50 years.  He produced shows that, in their day, would not have been touched by other more traditional West End producers.  In his personal life, he personified the Swinging 60s in London.

Amongst his productions were, ‘Oh! Calcutta!’, the notorious erotic revue, the original stage version of ‘The Rocky Horror Show’ and the film version, ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’.  He was also responsible for Anthony Shaffer’s smash hit, ‘Sleuth’ and the London productions of ‘A Chorus Line’, ‘Crazy For You’, ‘Annie’, ‘Beauty And The Beast’ and the film ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’.  He introduced the dance companies of Merce Cunningham and Pina Bausch to London audiences and was responsible for various avant-garde productions, many of which had him at logger-heads with British censorship at the time.  Bankrupted in 2005 and suffering ill-health since then, Michael White nevertheless continues to be an icon in the theatrical world.

Following a chance encounter with Michael White, Gracie Otto gained his permission and co-operation to make this documentary about his extraordinary career and his life.  The film is particularly strong on the details of his cutting edge productions and there is excellent use of graphics and film clips to illustrate the narrative.

The film is less successful where Gracie Otto attempts to gain information from the man himself about the touchy subjects of his gambling, drug-taking and failed business ventures.  Her direct approach during interviews seems to antagonize her subject who is not all that forthcoming to begin with.

The director gained access to a huge number of celebrities who were willing to talk to her about Michael White, everyone from Kate Moss to John Cleese to Yoko Ono.  Many of them provide interesting insights into the man, often revealing intriguing details about themselves.

The film is a compelling look at a fascinating period of theatrical history and at a man who influenced the direction of theatre and show business generally over a long period.  For anyone with an interest in theatre history and/or good celebrity gossip, this film is a must-see.

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