Gracie Otto is a great talent and has been meticulous in her attention to detail in all aspects of her fascinating homage to Michael White, the star of The Last Impresario, who she called “Chalky” in the initial stages of production. You’ve probably never heard of him, but be assured he’s the one the media missed, and Gracie Otto found.
In this documentary of his life and times that exposes an unhappy childhood where with chronic asthma his parents sent him off to Switzerland at the tender age of seven, that he became a gregarious and much loved impresario producing so many of the great shows in London with a coterie of celebrities collected over the decades to share and inhabit his celebrity lifestyle, is a red carpet ride of extraordinary characters and excesses of all kinds.
He is now a shadow of that handsome man of the swinging sixties, but still maintains a lifestyle he can’t forget, resist or afford. He survives with the help of family and friends and enjoys an almost voyeuristic life sitting watching the world go by – sashay by in the case of Mick Jagger at the Hotel Du Cap – still partying into the early hours and being Michael White, the one the celebrities gravitate to just to be in his company. Those celebrities are what make this production so fascinating, particularly as Otto had little or no trouble getting them on the record adoring Michael White.
Otto delved into White’s treasured archive to create the narrative from the letters, scrap books and boxes of memorabilia, used just some of his 30,000 photos snapped on an instamatic to record those celebrity moments and created a sensitive but explicit story of a man who seemed to have it all.
It was not all a bed of champagne and roses and he collected a few wivesand partners along the way – Australian Lyndall Hobbs among them – but The Last Impresario is a triumph of determination and detail by Gracie Otto even though she had no idea what an ‘impresario’ was when she started. And she had no idea that in Canberra for the Q&A after the screening, Bernard Unkles would surprise her with a question from the stalls. Yes they’d met in France, he heard the Aussie accent from a desperate woman and he came to her aid. She was between interviews; had just finished John Cleese and was racing off to New York for Anna Wintour. There’s as much delight in the story of the making as in the telling.
The Last Impresario is at Palace Cinemas.