DIR: James D. Cooper • PRO: James D. Cooper, Douglas Graves, Loretta Harms • DOP: James D. Cooper • ED: Christopher Tellefsen • MUS: The Who • CAST: Chris Stamp, Kit Lambert, Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, Terence Stamp, Irish Jack
Frequently hailed as one of the most influential rock bands of the twentieth century, The Who embodied many of the radical socio-cultural and political changes that swept across Britain when they first emerged during the Swinging Sixties. While the idiosyncratic personas of the band and their contribution to popular culture has been well-documented over the decades (not least in dramatized form in the 1979 film Quadrophenia), perhaps less familiar are the two men Roger Daltrey christened the fifth and sixth members of the band. As The Who celebrate fifty years in the music industry and to coincide with this milestone, cinematographer-turned-director James D. Cooper debuts an exhaustive and highly entertaining account of the lives of aspiring filmmakers Kit Lambert and Christ Stamp, who, in 1964, stumbled upon an unknown mod band in a grimy London club and turned them into enduring, incendiary rock gods.
Kit Lambert was an ostentatious Oxford-educated homosexual (still illegal at the time of meeting The Who) and son of renowned composer Constant Lambert, while Stamp was an unpolished East End lad, son of a Thames tugboat captain and brother of actor Terence. Having met as assistant directors in Shepperton Studios, the incongruous pair harboured ambitions to become film directors. Seemingly an insurmountable challenge the traditional route, Lambert proposed they make their own film about a burgeoning rock band and track their rise within the British rock scene. After trawling many a squalid club, they eventually stumbled upon the High Numbers and despite having no industry experience but plenty of swagger and tenacity, they became their managers and transformed the unvarnished High Numbers into notorious rockers, The Who, credited with affecting the band’s auto-destructive guitar-smashing act, Maximum R&B music, sonic explorations and signature target T-shirt.
Employing an abundance of archive stills and film footage and fusing interviews, commentaries and musical performances from the past to present day, Cooper’s cinematic scrapbook captures a relentless whirlwind of explosive rock history, in which a non-linear narrative and slick cinematography rollicks furiously through the decades, rooting the audience directly in the band’s volcanic timeline. As the only surviving members of the band, it is left to Townsend and Daltrey to cut sharply through their recollections of the hallucinatory ’60s, the rocking ’70s, the sobering ’80s to the present day and not only does Cooper extract some of the most emotive and disclosing interviews from his subjects but he also gets his hands on some of the most invaluable rock archive material to underpin the cyclone of chaos that suffocated their tempestuous rock reign.
Townsend is an unsparingly honest and philosophical interviewee and while he gives genuine due credit to his managers for their contribution to the band’s success, it is evident that the subsequent pitfalls at the height of their 60s fame (bankruptcy, addictions and tensions with the 1967 film Tommy, which led to their eventual parting in 1975) were owing to the duo’s mismanagement rather than any complexities within the band itself. Daltrey is equally giving if not marginally more guarded, seemingly unrecovered from Lambert’s mentoring of Townsend and remaining somewhat wounded to this day by the rivalry between Townsend, the artistic genius and Daltrey, the choreographed showman.
The real narrative coup in the film however, is Chris Stamp, who, despite suffering from advanced colorectal cancer during the final stages of filming, provides a highly animated and detailed recollection on behalf of Lambert and himself, who died in 1981 (Stamp died in 2012). A loquacious, sharp, hyperactive, no-holds-barred East Ender, with an abundance of charm, wit and warmth, Stamp’s high-spirited memories are so palpable and vividly illustrated, there hardly seems need at times for the wealth of archive material flamboyantly fuelling the frenetic narrative.
When probed about their highly discernible relationship, Stamp acknowledges it was as a result of such creative and commercial distinctions that made them so artistically compatible, doubting The Who would have succeeded had they more in common. It was equally their rebellious and anarchistic attitude, which stood in blatant opposition to the established, saccharine British pop scene of the mid-1960s and was an extension of the band’s own fractious, egocentric personalities that allowed them to tap into the zeitgeist and encapsulate the counter-cultural ideas that seeped through the decade. It was a penetration of new musical and cultural philosophies within the industry that transcended their contemporaries, namely The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, which in accordance with the counter-cultural ethos of the decade did not conform to society’s rules, but rather made them. With mischievous imperiousness, Stamp scoffs both Lambert and he did not yet know who the band was upon meeting the High Numbers but they unequivocally knew who they did not want them to be.
If slight nitpicking is to be done in Lambert & Stamp, it is Cooper’s tendency to be overly sentimental. While Lambert, Moon and Entwistle are all dead and evidently their versions can only be relayed through historic material and memories, theirs is a rock biography in which excessive substance abuse and melancholic dispositions played a significant role in the band’s overall life story. Cooper tentatively sketches over these actualities and veers towards a more nostalgic conclusion, with Stamp poignantly visiting Lambert’s grave, recalling the more positive aspects of his character rather than deliberate on the more tortured facets of his history. But nitpicking it is and James D. Cooper must be credited with creating a comprehensively energetic and highly intriguing portrait of two men whose wildly tangible differences gelled to create a formidable rock partnership and differences that certainly can be attributed to the enduring success of The Who to this day.
Lambert & Stamp is released 15th May 2015