Lambert & Stamp
2015, R, 117 min. Directed by James D. Cooper.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., May 15, 2015
It’s not mandatory that you be a fan of the Who before going to see this intensely granular portrait of the two men who, essentially, invented the aggressively creative UK rock legends. On the other hand, if the name Tommy is immediately followed by Hilfiger in your pop-cultural lexicon, you might feel a bit at sea watching director Cooper’s debut feature-length documentary. And, to make matters even more oblique, Lambert & Stamp isn’t really about the Who. It’s much more interested in the implausible and complicated partnership between Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, two would-be filmmakers besotted by the French New Wave who, in postwar London, struck upon the ingenious idea of shooting footage of London’s “grotty” underground mod scene – brilliant stuff, actually – and then fashioning a storyline around a single band. That band, the High Numbers, turned out to become the Who, but when we’re first introduced to this scrappy, street-fighting quartet of “ugly” rapscallions, they’ve yet to record a single song, much less be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Mr. Lambert and Mr. Stamp (brother to actor Terence, seen here as both talking head and in a brief clip from Federico Fellini’s short film Toby Dammit) had other ideas, and plenty of them. While Lambert was felled in 1981 at the ripe, young age of 45 (a fall, coupled with a lifetime of drugs, alcohol, and general rock & roll malaise), Stamp, along with the surviving members of the Who, reveal a deeply moving and fascinating portrait of an endlessly creative duo – one straight and Cockney to the core, one gay and Oxford posh – who through sheer willpower alone catalyzed one of the greatest rock bands in history.
Utilizing scads of heretofore unseen footage of the band in both its formative and latter days alongside riveting shots of mods grooving to the new sound while wreathed in lung-busting palls and plumes of cigarette smoke – in gorgeous monochrome, no less – Lambert and Stamp come across as creatives perhaps a bit before their time. Eventually singling out beaky guitarist Pete Townshend as the group’s driving force (to the exasperation of frontman Roger Daltrey, who is referred to as being “lost”), they cunningly and with great imagination managed the band up until the Who’s Tommy tour. By that point, Townshend and company owned the famed Shepperton Studios, the band was raking in the pounds, and Lambert was off in a Venetian palazzo doing smack and partaking of the city’s young male escorts. A recipe for personal and professional disaster if ever there was one, yes, but by that point the Who had long since required a question mark after their name when bringing the band up in conversation.
To Cooper’s credit, Lambert & Stamp frames its story around the titular partnership of these two hustling impresarios, which ended up yielding far more than just the Who. At times, it’s a bit like being cornered and regaled by actor Bill Nighy’s aging rocker Billy Mack from Love Actually, but certainly more interesting, and a rewarding and informative document of some unlikely visionaries of maximum rock & roll.