Michael White is an éminence grise everyone seems to know and revere, but who is he, exactly? Gracie Otto wanted to find out and her documentary The Last Impresario explores how White may sadly be one of the last in the true definition of the term.
The culturally curious White was the visionary producer behind more than 250 productions in Britain and the U.S., such as the first theatrical run of the The Rocky Horror Picture Show and early Merce Cunningham tours.
"The reason he's not a Sir or a Lord is because he's a subversive," a former assistant suggests, before Tracy Tynan reminisces on cue about White's early success: the scandalous 1969 erotic revue Oh! Calcutta!
The cultural who's who weighing in includes Yoko Ono, John Cleese, John Waters, Wallace Shawn and Anna Wintour. Even the usually reticent Kate Moss is voluble, particularly about White's bohemian lifestyle.
The interviews are layered with stylized photographic layouts, archival footage and home-video glimpses of White intimates such as Jack Nicholson and Roman Polanski. All that carefree hedonism makes present-day scenes of White, still in the owlish spectacles but slowed at 78 by health challenges, all the more poignant as he sifts through personal possessions for yet another auction to raise money for himself; White was a terrible businessman but doesn't dwell on his mistakes.
Shuffling around a friend's home and relying on two canes, White may no longer ride the zeitgeist he was so talented at anticipating, but he still stays out partying into the wee hours.
The Last Impresario starts a seven-day run at Toronto's Bloor Hot Docs Cinema on Friday.