Compelling new film tracks the Who’s managers (above, L-R) Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert’s bold business venture during the ‘60s.”We wanted it to feel like you were there and experiencing it,” says director James D. Cooper. Check a pair of trailers, below, following the text
BY DENISE SULLIVAN
In the early ’60s, young British filmmakers Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp set out to find a rock band and make it the subject of a movie: To be crafted in French new wave style, they were set to upend the dominant narrative of grey, post-war England and capture the excitement of an explosive youth quake in progress.
“We didn’t know what we wanted, but we absolutely knew what we didn’t want,” says Chris Stamp in the new documentary, Lambert and Stamp. Their indescribable “it” made itself apparent at the Railway Hotel in 1964 where the High Numbers were at the center of a raucous and sweat-soaked Mod dance scene, yet instead of going through with their film, they turned the band—Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle and Keith Moon—into a palette for their expression. Fifty years later, Lambert and Stamp tells the largely untold story of the men Daltrey calls “the fifth and sixth members” of the Who.
“It’s interesting that Chris Stamp called it a continuation of the film he and Kit set out to make,” says director James D. Cooper. “They wanted to show the pluses, the minuses, the achievements and the mistakes.” Lambert and Stamp frames the two men as iconoclasts who were not only instrumental in breaking the Who, but generally interested in busting their society’s imposed class, economic, sexuality, and race barriers to make an imprint on rock ‘n’ roll everlasting. Lambert and Stamp formed the Track Records label so they could in essence, sign Jimi Hendrix (“Purple Haze” was their first single release); they also scored number one hits with “Fire” by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and “Something’s in the Air,” by Thunderclap Newman, among other ’60s sensations, but the Who were the team’s beginning, middle and end.
Cooper worked closely with Stamp, Daltrey, Townshend, and others in the Who’s small circle. Rarely have Lambert’s excesses and eccentricities been explored with this much clarity: They are what ultimately disabled his ability to interact with the band, and specifically Townshend, whom he’d artistically mentored. Incorporating rare archival footage of the band with Lambert and Stamp’s own on-camera moments, and an astonishing 44 tracks of rare Who music, the resulting document offers an emotional spin on what went into the making of the Who with a soundtrack that manages to land hard and fast, even though the work is going on 50-years-old.
“We made unusual choices,” explains Cooper, a cinematographer making his directorial debut with Lambert and Stamp. “A lot of Pete Townshend’s demos, over-modulated crowd-noise, ambience from the live tracks…We didn’t use a lot of the more well-used Who music—not that it’s not great—but I wanted the audience to feel like it was in on the process, so I wanted to use as much scratchy, mid-range live stuff as possible, so you’re not getting the polished result, you’re getting the mistake, you’re getting the visceral, you’re getting the idea. We cut the film accordingly.” (Below: Townshend talks for the filmmakers)
Echoing exactly what was once so exciting about rock ‘n’ roll—the music, the presentation, and the attitude—and its multiple opportunities to enact (onstage and off) the existential dilemma of youth and rebellion, much like Lambert and Stamp did for the Who, the film reflects what died-in-the-wool rock fans and musicians bring to the circus as participants: The Who especially were all in it together.
“When you’re in the time, it’s not always apparent what’s happening around you—you have to know where to look,” says Cooper of Lambert and Stamp’s brand of genius. Frame by frame, Cooper focuses on the pair’s extraordinary ability to capture their generation’s ferocious collective power. “At the time they entered it, the music business that preceded them was rather hopeless…run by people who were like half bad trombone players. Groups were acts and the audience was being entertained by them. What’s extraordinary about Lambert and Stamp—two men—one gay, one straight—bonded. Both felt marginalized from the broader society in their own ways and came together to say, ‘Hey…wait a minute.'”
Both were also in possession of innate resources–Lambert with his posh class background, Oxford education, paternal connections (his father Constant Lambert was a composer and conductor) and Stamp with his rough boy good looks and hard work ethic (he was the son of a tugboat captain; his brother is British cinema icon, Terence Stamp). Lambert was a practicing homosexual in a country that outlawed it, while Stamp was a ladies man, yet as a team, they found the ways and means to challenge and change the music business with unparalleled flair.
“Whenever you have people willing to look beyond themselves able to form a connection, great things can happen,” says Cooper who was ultimately taken with Lambert and Stamp’s unique ability to transcend circumstances as a team. But the highs of creativity, from the Who’s logo to the formation of England’s first independent label, began to crash following the enormous success of Tommy, even though it was Lambert who’d encouraged Townshend to compose his opera-like suites. When Townshend rejected Lambert and Stamp’s bid to make the film version of his rock opera, relations truly soured. Lambert was no longer available or able to consult with Townshend on projects like the conceptual Lifehouse or the sessions for Who’s Next as his addictions hastened the demise of the business relationship and ultimately led to his death. Stamp struggled with his own demons.
“I suppose it’s a little like breaking up with someone,” says Cooper. “You just put that stuff behind you. Or you don’t.” Cooper had come to know Stamp as a friend and film person before ever approaching him with the idea to tell his story. He and his production partner Loretta Harms, found Stamp open to their idea, though “He had to think about it on many levels. While his time with Kit was brilliant and cathartic, it was also painful and tragic. Going back into it, he really asked himself whether or not he would do justice to it, representing this huge thing—he, Kit, and the Who at its core.”
Working with the impossibly charismatic and handsome Stamp (above), “like clay as a leading man,” in the director’s parlance—was a pleasure for Cooper, and yet, “I knew him, so I knew how he was, and he was not somebody who went through the motions. I knew if he got into this, he would really get into it and go to the edge. When he split from the Who, Chris took very little with him, or very little followed him.” The project relied on the fact Cooper was able to get some cues from Stamp about existing footage, while Daltrey held the keys to unleashing much of it and did. And though Stamp succumbed to cancer in 2012 and did not see the completed film, “He hung in there right ’til I had everything I needed, and then he kinda let go,” says Cooper.
Despite the deep seeded love and admiration for each other, throughout the filming there remained a natural and understandable edginess to the story, even with so much water under the bridge. The tension is best exemplified in one shot, a conversation between Daltrey and Stamp recorded without sound. Cooper caught the pair talking through a window in the name of collecting b-roll, though his cinematography experience told him the moving picture was worth a proverbial thousand words.
“I saw them go out there. I’d just photographed something with Roger, or maybe it was the bit we with filmed with Chris and Heather [Daltrey]. Even though there was this rift—Lambert and Stamp were served papers, and yet, were still needed—they were always in touch. So the film became a matter of how to render the complex nature of this stuff and that shot does that, just in the way they move,” says Cooper. “There’s a still a lot that was left unsaid.”
Denise Sullivan is author of several books and a regular contributor to Blurt.
She covered the Elliott Smith documentary, Heaven Adores You, opening in theaters May 7, 2015.