Reviews

The Who's 'Lambert and Stamp' Is a Murky Telling of an Unknown Chapter in Rock History

This film tells the story of two men who formed an unlikely partnership and persuaded The Who to sign with them, despite their lack of connections and experience in the industry.


Lambert and Stamp

Director: James D. Cooper
Cast: Chris Stamp, Terence Stamp, Kit Lambert (archival footage), Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey
Distributor: Sony
Rated: R
US DVD release date: 2015-08-18

Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp may be the oddest pair of band managers in rock 'n' roll history. They were aspiring film directors who found their dreams stymied by the industry and decided they would shepherd a young pop group's career while filming the process.

They planned to turn that footage into a movie, thus giving them a foothold in the industry, but instead they spent several years overseeing the transformation of the High Numbers into the Who, who became wealthy superstars that toured the world. However, Lambert and Stamp were not immune to the pitfalls of the rock world, and their story is ultimately, unsurprisingly, a tragic one.

This documentary by James D. Cooper tracks Lambert and Stamp's rise and fall, from their discovery of yhe Who to the tensions that drove them away from the band to Lambert's sad end and Stamp's eventual reconciliation with front man Roger Daltrey and guitarist/songwriter Pete Townshend. The men were an odd pair: Lambert was the son of a famous classical composer who traveled among London's high society while Stamp was the product of a working class family whose brother Terence went on to achieve notoriety as an actor.

However, as Townshend, Daltrey, and others interviewed for this film explains, Lambert and Stamp had a chemistry that produced a whole greater than the sum of its parts. The pair convinced the Who that they would oversee their burgeoning career, even though they weren't much older than the band members themselves, and admitted later that they didn't really know what they were doing. While Stamp was a solid ideas man with a flair for marketing, Lambert's musical background enabled him to zero in on the best of Townshend's songwriting and nurture those efforts until they produced some of the greatest hits in rock 'n' roll history.

It's a fascinating story, although this documentary begins to run off the rails a bit during the Who's post-Tommy years, when cracks between the managers and the band began to widen, resulting in legal salvos from both sides. Unfortunately, while this story's early years are detailed well, the later years begin to get murky. For example, it's not really clear what the legal proceedings were about, beyond disagreements between Townshend and the managers over plans for a movie based on the seminal rock opera.

It's also not clear how involved Lambert and Stamp were during the rest of the '70s and the early '80s, when the band called it quits the first time. The pair seemed to be flitting around the scene during the making of Quadrophenia, but the film doesn't clarify what they were doing by the time Keith Moon died and the Who planned their farewell tour a few years after that.

Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp

This isn't a documentary about the Who, but it would have been nice to get a fuller picture of the complete timeline from Lambert and Stamp's point-of-view. Even Lambert's passing is a bit murky: the film doesn't say when he died, nor how, and a moment where Stamp seeks out his grave is left unresolved. I was waiting for a shot of his gravesite that never came.

Lambert and Stamp also suffers from a few technical issues throughout the proceedings. Sometimes the music threatens to drown out the interviewees, and on a few occasions, you can hear Cooper asking questions but it's hard to make out what he's saying -- sub-titles would have helped during those moments. You can even see something on the side of the screen during parts of Stamp's interview -- I assume it was someone's body part getting in the way.

Those negative items aside, however, this documentary is still worthwhile viewing for rock fans who want to know more about a piece of music history that has never received wide exposure. On one hand, it's bizarre that two men with no connections in the industry could manage to play an instrumental role in the ascent of one of the biggest bands, but on the other hand, it makes a perverse kind of sense because rock 'n' roll has never been a genre that plays by any kind of rules.

The two bonus items on this disc are also worth experiencing to complete your education about Lambert and Stamp. In the first one, Henry Rollins spends 40-minutes interviewing Cooper, and in the second one, Cooper offers a commentary over the film. Both bonus features offer a wealth of additional information that help complete the experience.

6


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