Lambert and Stamp a fascinating look behind The Who's scenes
By Jim Bray
Fans of The Who will want to see Lambert and Stamp, a new documentary by director James D. Cooper that gives us a look at the duo who took a raw and unpolished gem of a rock band and honed it into the legendary musical and cultural force it became.
Lambert and Stamp are, or were to be more accurate, Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, a pair of aspiring filmmakers who put their cinematic dreams on hold, kind of, after they saw The High Numbers perform in a London club and decided they wanted to manage the quartet of very diverse but gifted individuals.
This particular documentary is at least the third to focus on The Who - and even though this one focuses on the duo behind the quartet, it's as much about the band as it's about the managers, thanks to L&S' huge influence on the musicians. Other documentaries focused on various other aspects of the band. The Kids are Alright basically covered the years until Keith Moon's demise and is my personal favourite because it's more about the band and its music than the behind the scenes stuff - a loving look at the band, as it were. Later, Amazing Journey's two feature set expanded on that, though it focused more on the individuals in the band. It was also a very worthwhile view of The Who. Who fans will want both of these other documentaries as well.
As for Lambert and Stamp, it turns out that they, especially Lambert (at least as far as the musical creativity side was concerned) were to The Who much like "the fifth Beatle" George Martin was to the Beatles. Except that while Martin was mostly the producer and musical mentor, Lambert and Stamp's duties went far beyond that, right to the molding of the band's name, sound, image - and bigger things like the creation of Tommy, the first "full length" Rock Opera that, according to this video, basically saved the band from dissolution as they'd reached their creative end.
Tommy was The Who's second opera, after the "mini-opera" "A Quick One While He's Away," which was written to pad out an album that was judged too short at the time. It could also be argued that The Who Sell Out is, if not a true rock opera, one of the early concept albums (and it's a great one; I consider it Townshend's First Masterpiece). And of course Townshend followed up Tommy with what I consider Townshend's Last Masterpiece (to date, anyway), Quadrophenia.
But I digress. Lambert and Stamp is full of archival footage I'd never seen before, as well as some classic bits that have appeared in other Who documentaries. It also features a soundtrack of Who (and a bit of other) music that I could swear included versions of songs such as Magic Bus, Call Me Lightning and others that are either Pete's demos or works in progress. Sometimes the tunes are a tad loud and that made it hard to understand the words being spoken by the subjects on camera (sometimes it isn't easy to understand them because of their accents, too, and the loud music makes it even more difficult), but overall it's a delightful backdrop to the tale unfolding on the screen.
Besides the old stuff, there's current footage featuring Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, the two surviving members of the band, the late Chris Stamp (and a bit from his brother, the actor Terence Stamp), as well as Richard Barnes (Pete's former art school chum and roommate, who claims the name The Who came from him), Irish Jack, Heather Daltrey and others. And of course the old footage has lots of stuff with Lambert and Stamp from the era. I hadn't realized just how much of Kit Lambert was actually on film.
The audio and video quality is, not surprisingly, all over the map, but it's pure (and easy, to rip off a song title) gold.
Lambert and Stamp, like the four very different personas that made up The Who, came from decidedly different backgrounds and it was this union of perspectives that made their whole greater than the sum of their parts - two and two equalling six, as is said in the film. Lambert was from high society and Oxford, while Stamp was the son of a tugboat captain, and their shared interests in movies led them to team up. One of the things they wanted to do was make a movie about an up and coming rock band. Guess "Who" that turned out to be.
So it was that they took the unformed clay of The High Numbers, consisting of four blokes who didn't really care for each other very much but who came together for what they envisioned would be short-lived musical careers and created The Who. Lambert and Stamp also created Track Records, supposedly the first independent label, signing such acts as Jimi Hendrix (Stamp lets us know they didn't even actually have a record label at the time, just a vision and plenty of bravado), Thunderclap Newman, and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.
Lambert was son of a famous conductor and kind of a frustrated composer himself, and "Lambert and Stamp" shows him as using Pete Townshend as a way to get his own creativity out. Stamp was more the business and idea man and the documentary shows him working as an assistant director on British-produced films to make enough money to keep the band solvent. He very nearly succeeded, but for many years the band was basically broke and the film outlines some of the tricks Stamp and Lambert used to keep The Who one step out of the poorhouse until Tommy brought them the money and acclaim they'd worked so hard to earn.
The film isn't just a rose coloured look at The Who, fortunately, and it definitely doesn't gloss over the problems the players had to deal with, including Lambert's homosexuality in an era in which it was illegal, drug use, money woes, creative conflicts, and even Roger's early propensity for solving band issues with his fists.
Lambert and Stamp is available now on DVD and Blu-ray. I had requested the Blu-ray, because I stopped reviewing DVD's several years ago, but Sony sent the DVD anyway. Therefore, I can't comment on the audio and video quality of the Blu-ray like I do usually. In this case, fortunately, the HD picture would probably enhance the experience (especially the newer footage), but the lossless sound might not make too much difference, since so much of the film is either talking heads or old, monaural footage.
The DVD comes with only two extras other than a seemingly interminable selection of trailers. You get a commentary with director James D. Cooper, and it's pretty interesting though also quite sparse (not necessarily a bad thing - better to have him shut up than prattle on just to fill time). There's also a question and answer session between Cooper and Henry Rollins. It's interesting enough, I suppose, but more than a tad dry.
You also get a code that lets you download a digital version of Lambert and Stamp.
There may be more extras on the Blu-ray.
As a diehard "Whoey" since 1969, I leapt at the chance to learn more about the band I've loved for so long, though I had no idea how they'd find a feature's length of stuff about two guys I had always figured were really just behind the scenes players. How wrong I was! "Lambert and Stamp" is a fascinating look not only at the two men of the title; it's also a terrific source of info on the development and maturation of The Who as well as an interesting look at the society of the 1960's era.
Copyright 2015 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.