“Lambert & Stamp” probably isn’t for the casual Who fan. It may not even be for every die-hard Who fan.
Director James D. Cooper’s two-hour documentary chronicles in great detail the relationship between Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, two fledgling filmmakers who met in London in the early 1960s and agreed to make a film about a rock band. They end up becoming the Who’s management team, advising and ushering the four from an obscure, rough-hewn and somewhat mangy club band, first known as the High Numbers, into international rock stars and creators of the first rock opera.
Lambert and Stamp’s friendship was as unlikely as it was deep and abiding. Lambert was an Oxford-educated aristocrat, the son of Constant Lambert, the Royal Ballet composer. Stamp was raised in London’s working-class East End, son of a tugboat captain (and brother of actor Terence Stamp).
Yet their mutual love of film, particularly French New Wave, brought them together and inspired them to make a film about a group representing the angst and rebelliousness of London’s post-war generation.
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For months they searched for the right band before coming upon the High Numbers. The group agreed to be filmed and then managed (and marketed) by the two, though Lambert, it turned out, had the most influence on the band’s music and image and on Pete Townshend’s songwriting.
The film includes early footage of the band, but not much music. It explores the group’s often volatile chemistry, which becomes further strained as Townshend falls under Lambert’s tutelage, growing isolated from the three others and rising to be their de facto leader. That volatility became a calculated part of the band’s image on stage, manifested by the destruction of guitars and drum kits.
Townshend and singer Roger Daltrey appear throughout the film, discussing their Svengalis’ influence on their music and image, down to Daltrey’s fringed jackets and mane of curly, golden hair, which transformed him into a rock idol. Stamp also appears throughout, reminiscing fondly about Lambert and the early days managing the band.
Ultimately, “Lambert & Stamp” is a bittersweet tale. After Townshend produces his first opus, the rock opera “Tommy,” the Who’s relationship with their managers becomes strained. Townshend refuses to let Lambert shop a “Tommy” film adaptation; eventually director Ken Russell gets the gig. Lawsuits are filed, and the two sides go their separate ways.
Stamp recalls ironically that the last time the two sides met was at the film studio Shepperton, which was then owned by the Who and which was where he and Lambert first met.
Cooper’s attention to detail is admirable, but two hours feels a bit too much for this story. True die-hards may appreciate the inside-baseball insights. But for the casual fan, the focus on the management and the relatively small part the music plays can make it feel long and dry.
By 2012, four of the principals are gone. Drummer Keith Moon died of an overdose in 1978; his death is covered briefly in the film. Lambert died in 1981, alone and fighting drug addiction. Bassist John Entwistle died in 2002 of a heart attack. And Stamp died of cancer in 2012.
The survivors, Daltrey and Townshend, remember Lambert and Stamp respectfully and fondly but with no deep regrets. If “Lambert & Stamp” preaches a moral, it’s something like this: Success ultimately becomes a matter of business, even success inspired by talent and good intentions. And few things can come between even the best of friends as quickly and resolutely as business.
(At the Cinemark Palace, Cinetopia.)
‘LAMBERT & STAMP’