Film Review: Lambert & Stamp

Definitive account of the two producers behind The Who, one of rock's most successful bands.
Specialty Releases

Of all the British Invasion groups, The Who may have been the most well-documented. Lambert & Stamp helps explain why, in the process revealing some of the secrets behind the group and the rock industry in general. Targeted to a narrow audience, this documentary will find its audience in the home market.

Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp were an unlikely pair, the former the homosexual son of a famous symphony conductor, the latter a working-class teen who turned to the movie industry as a way of keeping out of trouble on the streets. Meeting as assistant directors at London's Shepperton Studios, they shared a love for French New Wave cinema and an ambition to become directors.

For their first project, they decided to make a movie about an unknown rock band that makes it big. Lambert spotted a group called The High Numbers in a dingy club and persuaded the members to sign on to the project.

Stamp funded the movie by working on films like John Ford's Young Cassidy. Lambert, meanwhile, put The High Numbers—vocalist Roger Daltrey, guitarist/songwriter Pete Townshend, bassist John Entwhistle and drummer Keith Moon—on salary, and began shaping them for pop success.

Rechristened The Who, the musicians broke into the marketplace with a carefully defined commercial identity, one tied to the current "mods" movement. Lambert helped pack the audience with mods when The Who made their first television appearance, encouraged Townshend's songwriting, and tried to prevent internal conflicts from splitting the band apart.

Footage from Lambert and Stamp's planned movie offers a fascinating look at the musicians before they became The Who. Other archival clips, including Townshend performing a pre–Tommy "Glittering Girl," prove just how important the producers were to the group's success. They also show how calculating and manipulative the music industry could be. "The consumer is a problem to solve," Townshend says at one point. "You don't market to them, you market them."

The international success of Tommy brought its own problems, in part because no one believed the group would last. Townshend thought "it would deliberately blow itself up" after Lambert and Stamp got their movie finished. Instead, the business of The Who split into competing factions.

Director James D. Cooper augments period clips with modern-day interviews with older, chastened survivors. Townshend and Daltrey seem rueful about their behavior 40 years earlier. Stamp, who died in 2012, offers extended reminiscences that are by turns boisterous and sad. Lambert, who died in 1981, remains a shadowy figure, clearly talented, mysteriously self-destructive.

Cooper fashions some of the earlier scenes into a good approximation of a New Wave movie, and cleverly juggles a lot of potentially confusing information—Tommy as a record, Tommy on tour, Tommy at Woodstock, Tommy the Ken Russell movie. Lambert & Stamp has a lot to offer about The Who and commercial music in general, but it will mean the most for those with a deep appreciation for the minutiae of British rock 40 years ago.

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