Every good rock and roll act has been backed up by a good manager. Elvis Presley had Colonel Tom Parker. The Beatles had Brian Epstein. And The Who had Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, who are the subjects of a conveniently titled documentary called Lambert & Stamp.
Lambert & Stamp tells the story of Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, a pair of aspiring London filmmakers who thought that the best way to find success in the film industry would be to make a movie about a band. They happened upon a fledgling mod band called The High Numbers, who would soon be rechristened as The Who. Lambert and Stamp put their music documentary careers on hold in order to focus their energy on developing and managing The Who, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Told mostly through first-person interviews with the surviving participants coupled with archival footage of the group and its entourage, Lambert & Stamp shows a side of the story of The Who that many fans, even big ones, may not have ever seen before. Director James D. Cooper (who worked on the Paradise Lost documentaries for HBO) whittles down what was probably hours of conversation into an interesting and entertaining 117 minutes, so the whole thing comes off as a kind of oral history of the early days of The Who. Guitarist Pete Townshend and vocalist Roger Daltrey recall the period with both emotion and regret, while interviews with Chris Stamp and his brother, actor Terence Stamp, provide a more brutally factual account of the time period. The combination of all of the ingredients makes for an honest and candid look back at the formative years of a legendary rock and roll band.
Maybe it’s because he passed away in 1981 and he was all that the others wanted to talk about, but the bulk of the film is about Kit Lambert. Lambert and Stamp were complete opposites, with Kit being the educated and worldly yin to Chris’ rough-and-tumble street smart yang. Chris remembers his friend fondly, recounting stories about Kit being a big influence on The Who, particularly on Pete and his songwriting, until his falling out with the band during the production of the Who’s Next record. There’s a great segment in the film where Pete is playing an early version of “Glittering Girl” from the group’s The Who Sell Out album for Lambert and Stamp, and Pete is listening to Kit and taking in every bit of criticism and feedback. Pete remembers bringing songs to Kit and Chris, and them telling him which ones he should keep. Stamp even goes so far as the say that Lambert, not Ken Russell, was the real director of the movie version of Tommy. Townshend gets the credit for being the creative genius behind The Who, but Lambert and Stamp were always lurking in the shadows behind him.
Considering that the movie is essentially about The Who, there is a surprisingly little amount of music from the group in Lambert & Stamp, and most of the songs that are included are deep cuts that are used as transitional devices and background noise. There are no smash hits in the film, but the movie actually isn’t about the music; it’s about the people. The Who’s music takes a backseat, and it stays there for the duration of the film.
The unsung hero of Lambert & Stamp is drummer Keith Moon. Like Lambert, Moon is dead, and that may factor into it a bit, but no one interviewed for the film says a bad thing about the wild skin basher. Townshend and Daltrey reminisce about their old bandmate, with Townshend really opening up about his close friend. But, it’s not surprising that the surviving members of The Who would speak favorably about the departed ones. What is a bit of a shock is that Chris Stamp considered Keith Moon the most trustworthy and loyal member of the group; when things started to fall apart between the managers and the band, Moon would be the one who had his and Kit’s backs. Then, he died, and it was all downhill from there.
Lambert & Stamp is full of lots of cool archival footage of The Who as well as recent interviews. It’s a must-see for any real fan of the band, but audiences shouldn’t expect a movie about The Who. It’s about the guys behind the band; it’s a rock & roll movie without the rock & roll.