Director: Gracie Otto
Screenplay: Gracie Otto
Producer: Nicole O'Donohue
Starring: Michael White, Gracie Otto, Naomi Watts, John Cleese, Anna Wintour
BBFC Certification: 15
Duration: 85 min
Michael ‘Chalky’ White has had a profound influence on the entertainment industry over the last fifty years, yet, remarkably remains largely unknown to the public. After a chance meeting in Cannes in 2010, Gracie Otto made it her mission to explore the extraordinary life of White in The Last Impresario. Otto was drawn to the engaging history of the playboy and proficient gambler, willing his story to becoming foregrounded. Seemingly, White quite liked the idea of the spirited, young, Australian filmmaker projecting a collage of his life onto the big screen.
This is a feature debut for Otto who has had a series of shorts circulating around the film festival circuit for some time, since her graduation from Sydney Film School. She belongs to an Australian Dynasty, her father Barry Otto is a much-adored Sydney thespian, and her sister Miranda is a well-established film actress. This may explain why she found herself at a party in Cannes in the company of White. In fact, the entire film feels like a party at Cannes, the eccentric world that the subject’s inhabit remains tantalisingly out of reach. From the iconic interviewees including Yoko Ono, Naomi Watts and Anna Wintour, to the exploration of notorious stage shows such as the Rocky Horror Picture show, Otto invites us to crane our necks up and look at a enigmatic and bedazzling world.
It is a sweet dedication to this interesting character. He certainly took a sling-shot to the stagnant theatre industry of yore and challenged audiences with daring material that have become much loved theatre staples. Instead of acting as a sycophant, Otto champion’s Whites failures and setbacks as much as his successes. She weaves in stories of White’s isolated childhood including his sickliness and residence in a Swiss boarding school at the impressionable age of seven. Perhaps, these childhood vignettes give reason for his lavish lifestyle and adopted theatrical family. He is certainly man that craves the company of eccentrics.
Otto remains mostly in the shadows throughout the film allowing White to be spotlighted, however, there are moments of obvious tension between the two when she probes too deeply into this financial insecurity and past betrayals, thus achieving a more rounded understanding of the infamous producer. We begin to understand why, after all his success, he is not living in abundant riches. Otto illustrates a man who took risks and fought for work he believed in, who trusted business partners as friends and who documented every lavish party or social event by taking myriad photos with film cameras.
The Last Impresario is a stunning tribute to Michael White’s eclectic life. It is hard to pigeon hole Michael White and Otto does not attempt to. Instead, she illustrates the multifaceted and beautifully texture life that White led and continues to lead.
The Last Impresario arrives in UK cinemas on 26 September 2014 courtesy of Dogwoof.