There have been better, more thorough documentaries about the seminal rock band the Who. “The Kids Are Alright” set the standard back in ’79, and “Amazing Journey: The Story of The Who” seemed to fill in the gaps of that earlier film.
But “Lambert & Stamp,” an alternative history of the band as chaotically organized as the Who itself, is still an eye-opener.
James D. Cooper’s film, built around two British filmmakers who took over management of the band and led them to the top, posits that they were basically a cinema experiment that went right, a sort of reality TV show that became a self-manufactured success.
Chris Stamp, brother of the famed British actor Terence Stamp (also seen here) and Kit Lambert were assistant directors in early ’60s British film who longed to direct, and sought out a band that would be suitable for their film exploration of the age of Mods and Rockers, of Swinging London just as it started to swing.
The rough-hewn skirt-chasing Stamp and the closeted, multilingual Oxford grad Lambert (seen in vintage interviews with British, German and French TV) were “a whirlwind of ideas about how to get noticed,” lead singer Roger Daltrey remembers. And that’s exactly what started to happen when the quartet formally called The High Numbers started smashing their instruments on stage and discovering theatricality, when their new, novice managers started casting their audience the way one casts a film. The sharpest dressed mid-60s Mods were let in; The Who were even more dapper than their scooter-riding, sharp-dressed listeners. And the contrast between the anarchic band and their Mod image and Mod audience caught fire.
Thus, the band co-opted a movement and became a phenomenon.
The revelation here is how short-lived the garrulous Stamp (interviewed here) and some in the band (composer-guitarist Pete Townshend) thought this would be. Lambert and Stamp saw this as a two-year blip on the radar of disposable pop culture, a two-year project to prep a film. Art school student Townshend was sure the fame thing wouldn’t last.
And they were pretty much done, until “Tommy” arrived and the Who did what the Beatles, Stones and none of the rest ever managed. They created an opera.
The chronology isn’t neat, and for all the interviews and performance snippets, this isn’t a stand-alone history. You have to know The Who for this alternate take on their rise to glory to resonate.
But Brown has delivered a fun film, a fine tribute to Stamp and the late Lambert that gives them their due, even if the Who were a little slow to do that themselves.
LAMBERT & STAMP
- Cast: Chris Stamp, Kit Lambert, Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, Heather Daltrey, Terence Stamp
- Directed: James D. Cooper. A Sony Pictures Classics release.
- 117 minutes
- Rated R (language, some drug content and brief nudity)