Tag Archives: Cannes

The Last Impresario: Michael White’s life, from Pythons to Rocky Horror to Kate Moss

25 Sep

Who is Michael White? In The Last Impresario, the documentary about his star-cross’d and star-making life which opens in London tomorrow, and which I saw last night with a Q&A between the BBC’s Alan Yentob and the film’s young director, Gracie Otto, he is described as “the most famous person you’ve never heard of”. Otto herself hadn’t, when she attended the Cannes Film festival in 2010 as a recent film studies graduate, and noticed a mischievous, nattily dressed septuagenarian with an eye for the ladies (including herself) towards whom everyone seemed to gravitate at parties.

The more she found out about Michael White, the more convinced she became that she had the subject of her first film. White launched the careers of both the Pythons and the Goodies when he discovered a Cambridge Footlights show of unusual talent, and put it on in the West End. “It was extraordinary,” reflects John Cleese in the film. “I mean, this student show, in the West End! Unheard of. It allowed me to pay off my student debts in three months.” Bill Oddie, later of the Goodies, was another member of the revue: “Michael White was a bit like a Bond villain,” he recalls. “Always had a glamorous blonde on his arm.”

White put on Kenneth Tynan’s infamous avant-garde, fully nude erotic revue Oh! Calcutta!, which in 1970 didn’t so much push the envelope of acceptability as tear it into tiny pieces. It was only two years earlier that the centuries-old requirement for all plays to be approved by the Lord Chamberlain’s office had been scrapped. Despite (or because of) scandalised and negative reviews, the show became the longest-running in Broadway at the time.

White was the first to bring Dame Edna to London, though he lost a fortune with “her” on Broadway. He made The Rocky Horror Show a hit, then signed away the rights for a song to a hard-nosed American producer while distracted by drugs and women. In film, he produced such cult hits as Monty Python And The Holy Grail, My Dinner With Andre, and Polyester by John Waters, “the Pope of Trash”. The Cannes screening was presented in “Odorama” – scratch-and-sniff cards with scents such as fart and dirty socks. Waters recalls, “They broke the glass on the doors, people were so keen to get in.”

Oh, and lest you think White had a talent only for spotting actors, during the Q&A Otto mentioned one bit she hadn’t managed to fit into the film: White once attended a dinner bringing a friend whom he predicted “would be big in computers”. The friend was Steve Jobs.

Jobs, of course, is no longer available to interview, but Otto tracked down some heavyweight talking heads in The Last Impresario. Here’s a small sample:

Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue: “He was one of those extraordinary people who seem to know everyone on the planet. He was certainly by far the first person to talk to me about Kate Moss, before any agent.”

Kate Moss, supermodel: “When we first met, we ended up talking on and on, and then it was ‘let’s go to another club’. He was the only one who could really keep up with me.”

John Waters, cult film-maker: “He wasn’t a suit. Or if he was, he always had a great one on.”

Yoko Ono, whose art show White put on in pre-Lennon days: “Michael’s an interesting guy, a visionary. Very cool and visionary.”

Jim Sharman, director of The Rocky Horror Show: “Michael was one of the few producers who were prepared to take a punt, a gamble, on risky ventures that challenged the status quo.”

Michael White

Michael White in San Tropez

But for every party, there’s a hangover. And when your whole life is a party, that’s one doozy of a come-down.

By the time Otto catches up with White, he has suffered three strokes. The second, according to Peter Richardson of the seminal ‘80s comedy troupe The Comic Strip (yes, White produced them, too), came hot on the heels of the first.

“Imagine: you’ve had a stroke, then you go out partying with Jack [Nicholson, natch]. Jack saved him, I think, and got him to the best hospital.”

White is also broke, and somewhat tearfully packing up his memorabilia for sale at auction. In particular he has an extraordinary collection of 30,000-odd candid pics of the stars (see above) – at any social function, he’d be snapping away. An ex-partner felt it was his way of dealing with people, keeping them close and yet simultaneously at arm’s length. Sent to a boarding school in Switzerland at seven to cure his asthma, he was terribly lonely. Ever since, he liked to cocoon himself in a whirl of fascinating, dynamic people, while keeping his emotions and real feelings to himself.

In the end, White remains a charming enigma, the calm at the heart of the storm. He is not a loquacious interview, as a result of the strokes, but he seems not much given to self-analysis anyway. Who is Michael White? This fascinating documentary gets as close as anyone is likely to.

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Colonel Badd: watch the full interview with a supervillain

11 Sep
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The poker scene at the end of Colonel Badd. Your humble scribe is the hook-handed villain in the middle

It’s up! Colonel Badd, the interview with a supervillain that I co-scripted, and that was accepted into the Cannes Short Film Corner this year, is now viewable in full online: click here.

It seems like a lot more than a year ago since I met director Tony Errico in a Soho cafe, and pitched him my involvement by letting loose a series of increasingly loud villainous laughs (the other cafe clients affected not to notice. Londoners, eh? They’ve seen it all). The end result is far from perfect – the zero budget shows in the sets, or rather lack of them, and I feel it’s a tad long – but it’s a great premise, and has some good laughs. You get to hear my American accent in the final scene, where I’m doing my best to play poker with a hook for a hand.

See what you think. There’s a little twist in the end credit sequence, so stay with it…

We’ve all learned hugely from the experience, and Tony’s now making a new short called The Left Hand Path, with a proper budget this time. Which is where you, gentle reader, come in. Take a look at the crowdfunding page at Indiegogo, and consider making a contribution.

I’m not involved – I’ve been doing a short with Ben Charles Edwards and Sadie Frost, which is in post-production and looking FANTASTIC; more anon – but I’m glad to give Tony a plug. He’s a great guy, very collaborative, full of ideas, and I’m sure the film’s going to be great.

 

 

#10: Secret Cannes Diary of a Time Out Editor, Aged 33¼. Spice Girls v James Woods!

25 Jul
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Spice 1997: the Spice Girls bring girl power to a Cannes rooftop

I have finally been reunited with my Cannes diary from 1997, so I can at last continue with my extracts. (You can read the first 1997 extract here.) Is it just me, or was life more colourful back then? 🙂

Cannes, Sunday May 11, 1997: Jon Ronson [with whom I was staying while he wrote gags for Dennis Pennis, see past 1997 Cannes diaries] went to cover the press conference for Spice World this morning. I didn’t bother, but I did see the Spice Girls posing on a roof above the Croisette, the tarty little troopers, Geri Halliwell at one stage running right across it ostensibly to blow someone a kiss, but really just to make her breasts jiggle up and down; Victoria competing by showing more cleavage than the norm but looking as vacant as ever. (I love the story of Frank Skinner impersonating her by looking completely blank from different angles for a good two minutes, as the laughter built.) Each Cannes needs a starlet, and this year it’s our Spices.

Which reminds me: Emma from Electric was furious last night at Demi Moore’s upstaging antics: she rushed into Woody Harrelson’s car at the lights and went up the red carpet with him and tried to deflect the snappers’ bulbs on to her, which apparently just isn’t done my dear, all because she hadn’t got quite enough attention for her own film a couple of nights back.

I bumped into two people I had previously met at the peculiar 18 Awards which I judged at the Savoy, where they literally pushed my partner off the dancefloor in order to snap me with two nude body-painted showgirls – made me sympathise with set-up Tory MPs. The first was Nigel Wingrove, head of Redemption Films and director of Visions of Ecstasy which is the only film to have been banned on grounds of blasphemy; the second was Mark Deitch, programming director for cable channel Bravo, who waxed irate about censorship laws. The BBC is governed by the BBFC, whereas other channels are by the arcane and loosely worded code of the ITC – meaning that films shown uncut on the Beeb such as Day of the Dead can’t be shown on Bravo, which is arguably a cultier audience more likely to know they are getting transgressive material.

That evening I met up with Jon and Bugs actress Jaye Griffiths at the Soho House boat, chatted to Nigel Floyd finally, and headed off a beach party, which we weren’t kicked out of till 2.30am. Metrodome’s Tony Kirkhope apologised to me for trying to pour his G&T into my trousers at the London Film Festival party last year – I’d seen the mischievous glint in his eye and jumped back just in time. He claims to be sober now, and looked miserable. [Foot-note: he sadly died in his sleep a few weeks later, at just 47 years old.]

The best thing by far about the party was seeing livewire actor James Woods, a great hero of mine: shorter, fatter, older in real life, but Jesus! What a great dancer! He was with this preposterous bimbo woman, to whom he’d apparently just got engaged that afternoon. She was so straight and brittle you felt she’d break if anyone put their hand around her wasp-waist, a plastic face under blonde hair, and there was a great to-do over a purse she thought was stolen. She had PR Annabel rushing all over the place looking for it until eventually she saw the woman with it after all: “Oh, I’m sorry,” she said, not very apologetically, “I should probably have told you. I found it already.”

“I’m sorry,” I mimicked to PR Tina, “I should have told you, I found it was lodged up my ass all this time…”

For my 2013 Cannes blogs, click here. Final 1997 extract is here.

#9: Secret Cannes diary of a Time Out Editor, aged 33¼

28 May
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Roman Polanski and Emmanuelle Seigner in Cannes. In the event, Geoff was too shy to say hello on the nearby table.

The penultimate extract from my 1997 Cannes Film Festival diary, in which MTV equals anarchy and a producer praises my “tabs” and “dabs”…

Jon Ronson and I left the Bright Young Things to their boat (see previous diary entry) and set off to meet Geoff Andrew for dinner. Geoff materialised through the usual scrum around the red carpets of the Palais with Sheila Johnston and Quentin Curtis, fellow critics, and we headed off to the Old Port and Le Réfuge, Geoff’s fave, a choice supported by the arrival of little mummified Roman Polanski with his sweetheart Emmanuelle Seigner.

Cannes treated us to a huge fireworks display, as we sat outside in the chilly night, so long in fact it almost became dull! Nigel Floyd and Mark Kermode came past but insisted on finding somewhere they could eat inside.

After four bottles of rosé, time to get to the MTV do. Geoff pooh-poohed my suggestion of phoning a taxi, as the Time Out Guide recommended, and we set off in search of one. Nothing doing. So we hoofed it.

It was a long, long, weary walk, Geoff wisely dropping out to drink sedentarily at the Petit Majestic, and we arrived an hour later to find a huge crowd outside that turned out not to be gawkers, but bona fide ticket holders. We pressed and panted and heaved for a while, then squeezed out of the crowd, gasping for air, and stood at the periphery, marvelling at the cattle-truck chaos. A fight broke out; then a woman who pushed her way to the front of the crowd was, according to Jon, thrown bodily back into the crowd by a bouncer, wailing dismally, “But I’m from Freud Communicaatiooooooons…..”

It was Freud PR that “organised” this shambles, so it felt like divine retribution. The few people who emerged unsteadily from inside, with the dazed look of the war-wounded, said there were similar scenes indoors. And there was our man Richard “Jobbo” Johnson, still vainly struggling outside with the rest despite his clutch of VIP passes.

We would have left sooner, but I couldn’t face the walk. Eventually Laura and the Soho House posse arrived and commandeered a Soho House bus to squeeze the 13 of us in, and off we went…

I called a halt at the Croisette, and a half-dozen of us trooped off to the Petit Majestic. Less a bar than a street party, it’s where the Brits congregate (and some noisy, sing-songing ones at that, sadly). Jon left after 40 minutes, but by then I’d found Geoff, and Emma Davie, so I stayed, talking with them and her Miramax friend and the Welcome to Sarajevo team.

I also met a funny little producer who said he loved the way I smoked as though I enjoyed passionately each lovely breath.

“Love the way you smoke your ‘tabs’,” he said.

[I met him again the next day in the grocery store, the worse for wear having followed on to G&Ts and Jack Daniels, and I discovered that the important-seeming Cannes office number he’d been giving everyone really belonged to some old French lady. He greeted me with “Hey, shiny ‘dabs’!” Meaning my shoes. What lingo is that?]

I called it a night sometime after 4.30am; not too drunk this time owing to the two and a half hour drinking hiatus imposed by those f***ers at MTV who ruined my big night out.

I teased Jon about that. He was always complaining of the Cannes hierarchies of colours and badges and party restrictions, and I’d played Mr Sensible, saying otherwise there would be chaos.

And there it was, his egalitarian “everyone goes” party society, descending rapidly into apehood.

For the next extract, in which I dance with James Woods and watch the Spice Girls on a Croisette roof, click here. For the first 1997 diary extract, click here. For the first blog on Cannes 2013, click here.

#8: Secret Cannes diary of a Time Out Editor, aged 33¼

24 May
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Continuing the extracts from my Cannes diary from 1997. This time: partying on the Soho House boat with a young Anna Friel, Sadie Frost, Jude Law, David Thewlis…
May 10. Woke up at 9, or so I thought — my watch had stopped, and it turned out to be 12.30. Started off feeling terrible, then thought hey! It’s Cannes! And the sun is shining! And immediately became annoyingly cheerful.Forced down some bread and pate, then watched Jon and Paul (Ronson and Kaye, see previous blog) rehearse the new character Jon’s been writing for him. I giggled in the kitchen, even though I’d heard the jokes before; Paul’s delivery brought them to life.

Nothing planned till 5.30, so spent much of the afternoon wandering up the Croisette, where the crowds prevent you moving any faster than a zombie, and overheard a smart French woman tourist say, “Oh, mais il n’y a même pas des starlets nues.” Bought a phonecard and phoned Jonathan Rutter of DDA to beg tix for a party the next evening, which he said he was giving to only three people, Jon and I being two, then off to join the Young British Talent.

Normally you can’t get into the colossal Palais des Festivals without an accredited pass. Bureaucracy is such that I had prepared a speech in French for when I was inevitably  refused entry despite having a printed invitation to the roof-top reception, but no problems. There are gorgeous views from up there, and the view improved even more when the Brits arrived.

They’d all been styled in designer gear, and looked stunning: Joely Richardson in a ’30s-looking, calf-length shimmery dress; Sadie Frost with little horns, a tattoo, and killer blue eyes (and later in bare feet); Anna Friel (above) thin and poised in a black dress with plunging back, behaving like a naughty schoolgirl during the speech and making signs to Sadie; Catherine McCormack in Doc Marten’s beneath her dress; and then the boys — Rufus Sewell, Jude Law, Jon’s friend James Frayn — all dressed to kill in Paul Smith tuxes and exuding a raffish charm.

I introduced myself to Anna Friel and thanked her for being kind to Brian Case (Time Out‘s legendary Senior Editor) when he went on location recently for Landgirls. Brian had told me he was worried that his drinker’s reputation had preceded him, because Anna always seemed to have a bottle of wine to offer, even in the morning; but she said that’s just what she always did, with a deliberately insouciant air that shouted “See? I may come from the soaps but I’m a bad girl, really!”

Jon turned up late, and still gloomy, having a Bad Birthday. He introduced me to ??, head of MTV, who had produced his Jon Ronson Mission, and cheered up  when I told him the young stars were all off to dinner at the Soho House boat — so we could mosey along and somehow inveigle our way in…. which we did.

Barry Norman (the BBC film critic) was standing proud on the top deck, gazing into the distance like an Admiral, very much in command and in his element. We ligged into the bar area for free champagne and Sea Breezes, where Jon had two coups and two foot-in-mouths.

Catherine McCormack was effusive in her praise of Jon’s Omar documentary (earlier he’d said his great ambition was to meet Mike Leigh, but he was too frightened he’d snub him. I had joked that he’d probably say “Jon Ronson! I’m a great admirer of your films…”). This delighted him, though he spoilt the warm glow by saying to her, in the end, “So what do you do?” Oops. Mind you, I hadn’t realised she had starred in Braveheart, either.

Same with David Thewlis, who actually sought Jon out to praise him for his documentary; but when Jon started going on about meeting David’s ex-wife, and how he really liked her, it spolit the mood…

I meanwhile patched things up with Richard Jobson, who I worried might bear a grudge for a nasty Sideline in Time Out years back making fun of his dyslexia, which at the time made him furious. But no: he wanted to make a deal with Time Out to help out with his series of London movies [our News Editor Tony Thompson eventually co-produced with him], and sorted us out with VIP tix to the massive MTV party that night…

In the next episode, a fight breaks out at the MTV party… click here to read

#7: The Secret Cannes Diary of a Time Out Editor, aged 33¼

23 May
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I stayed in Cannes with Jon Ronson, who was then writing for Paul Kaye aka Dennis Pennis (above), terroriser to the stars

I’m back in England, but still blogging on the Cannes Film Festival. How? I found my diary from 1997, when as Editor of Time Out magazine I spent a wild long weekend in Cannes. This is the first extract, slightly edited for length…

May 9, 1997: Having arrived on the overnight sleeper train, I took it easy the first day at Cannes. Jon Ronson had kindly agreed to let me sleep on his floor. He had been a Time Out columnist, and now was being paid a fortune by the Standard to write a Cannes diary, as well as writing gags for TV menace Dennis Pennis, who would ask horrible trick questions of stars who were unaware at first that he wasn’t a “proper” BBC reporter. I met Jon for breakfast at 8am – he was up after a mostly sleepless night. The rest of his crew were asleep – Paul Kaye, better known to the TV-watching world as Dennis Pennis, was kipping late, having slept on the pavement to avoid waking up Jon’s flatmate who had pulled.

They had managed a heroic triumph in the small hours of morning, breaking through Michael Jackson’s notoriously tight security after 12 hours of trying, and “Dennis Pennis” managed to ask him two questions before they were bundled off: “Are you thinking of having any more children? Or are you worried about being arrested?” And: “Do you like 3T? Or do you prefer Boys2Men?”

After a lazy day, the evening started at the Majestic Hotel, where we were meeting Laura from Electric Pictures on the occasion of her birthday. Supposedly you can’t get in without accreditation, but I put on my power purple jacket and breezed through. The drinks were reassuringly expensive, 200 Francs for two Bloody Marys and a tomato juice – the latter for Boyd Farrow, Editor of Screen International and a dead ringer for Stanley Tucci, who had written the intro for the customarily invaluable Time Out guide to Cannes.

The next couple of hours were a chaos of people and escalating bar bills, plans going awry, people going off to dinner and never being seen again… Laura worried at mucking up all the arrangements, but it seems obvious to me that at Cannes, you just go with the flow.

Which Jon and I did, in pangs of hunger roundabout 9.30pm, to meet the Dennis Pennis mob in a tiny bar.

They were in a glum and savage mood, having waited to accost Charlie Sheen only to have him walk straight past them, early, while they were chatting. Paul Kaye is actually strikingly handsome in the flesh, with piercing blue eyes, an intelligent face and a nice smile – from zero to hero, as they say. Later, when he put on his heavy Pennis specs, he utterly transformed.

Geoff Andrew (Time Out Film Editor, now programmer of the BFI) turned up, having been sitting in the restaurant unnoticed with Jonathan Romney. Geoff’s been very helpful, writing me two sheets of telephone numbers and tips and maps before he left for Cannes.

We went off to party by the beach for Hanif Kureishi’s new film, leaving Paul Kaye to hit up Charlie Sheen later. It was a good do. I talked to Buena Vista supremo Daniel Battsek, and saw him for the first time look quite small and vulnerable when I witnessed a Big Swinging Dick competition straight out of Tom Wolfe.

A guy from UIP barged in on our conversation and started saying how the release dates of his new Bond film and Battsek’s Starship Troopers coincided, and he certainly wasn’t going to move, because if there was a war, he wasn’t the one going to get stomped over. “Real unzip your flies time,” said Daniel when he’d gone.

I found designer Pam Hogg on the beach, dressed in red rubber, yelling about “projectile pissing” at the top of her voice. The last time I saw her, she was bringing in pictures for our Weird Sex issue of herself naked and in chains… I shared a taxi with her once in a traffic jam after a radio interview, and we got on then, and we had a great chat now.

Danced with Laura from Electric to the Spice Girls and drank enough champagne to hurt my head. The beach was magical because of the lights from Cannes all around, the waves high and inviting. Jon disappeared to the Soho House boat with Paul Kaye, and I finally crashed out on Jon’s floor sometime around 3.30, waking occasionally in order to hurt in my head.

In the next episode, Anna Friel is naughty on a yacht while Sadie Frost wears devil horns: click here to read

Cannes confessions #6: the night time is the right time

21 May

Whoever said “Man cannot live by canapés alone” (they do say that, don’t they?) clearly has never been to the Cannes Film Festival. The place is a ligger’s paradise: every major film-making country has a pavilion, each one hosting receptions; the Croisette beach is lined with party marquees; and that’s without even counting the regular hotel ballrooms and nightclubs.

Veteran Canneites swap tips on how to smuggle extra people in – from walking purposefully past talking the doormen in someone’s slipstream talking into a mobile phone, to getting a stamp on your way out for a cigarette and then pressing it to your friend’s wrist before it’s had time to dry. Director Paul Wiffen, with whom I spent a fair bit of time, is a master of the art, having been to 16 Cannes Festivals. Someone really should ask him to write a book of Cannes Film Festival astuces, as he calls his clever wheezes, so if there are any publishers reading this…

There is truth, however, to the phrase “No such thing as a free lunch.” Every drink must be paid for excruciatingly in speeches, most of them barely audible and in a foreign language. And so I can exclusively report, from the ballroom of the Majestic Hotel with the Princess of Thailand in attendance flanked by kneeling flunkies, the exciting news that Thailand is proud of its film industry; ditto for the Russians; ditto for the Locarno Film Festival. As to the Swiss, for all I know they make atrocious films as efforts to gain access to their woefully disorganised bash on the beach were rebuffed.

The best party I went to was for Four Senses, starring former Miss Switzerland Nadine Vinzens and described by the wonderfully named producer Omar Kaczmarczyk (pronounced “Cash-my-cheque”) as an “eromantic” adventure. (The movie, he clearly believes, is so ground-breaking that it necessitates a whole new word.) Though I am still eager to hear the rest of charismatic director/writer Gabriel Murray’s Hamlet story, as I was called away to dinner too early…

And of course, poker fiend that I am, I couldn’t resist trying out the Croisette Barrière Casino, which a couple of years ago wrested the World Series of Poker Europe away from London’s Empire Casino. The cash games there are brutal, with minimum blinds of 5-10, but I figured it would be a novel way to meet top producers, and so it proved: one ended up sitting to my left.

He was in a foul temper, however, cursing every unlucky break, and in no mood to chat to an aspiring film-maker. My British modesty didn’t help. After I guessed correctly that he was a producer (he had a Festival pass round his neck, and was playing high-stakes poker, so duh), he asked what I did. “I’m a journalist,” I say, “but I also have a film I’ve co-written at the festival.” And then, apologetically – “It’s only a short, playing in the Court Métrage. Gotta start somewhere, I suppose.”

At that, he turned away. I have to learn not to be so bloody British. Still, it meant I felt no guilt when I flopped two pairs to crack his pocket Aces, and he exited soon after, hurling his final chip angrily at the dealer with appallingly bad grace.

So let’s abandon all British reserve now and toot my own horn. The next night I played a 30-person tournament at the casino, and came fourth after eight hours’ play. Not too shabby. Good training for the WSOP Millionaire Maker tournament in Vegas the weekend after this…!

For my recent Cannes despatches, read my first IBT article first, with the opening night gala and towering celebrity tales. Then my tips for festival virgins; hanging with the Bond spoofers; and streakers, lesbian love-ins and Nuke ‘Em High with the Troma crew. Plus picture-gallery here, and my final IBT article, on outrageous Cannes publicity stunts, here

For more about my own film in the Short Film Corner, Colonel Badd, see outtakes here and posters here.

Come back tomorrow for more on Cannes.