Greetings again from the darkness. Considering myself a big and long-time fan of the rock band The Who, this documentary from first time filmmaker James D Cooper caught me off-guard with the surprising amount of detail and behind-the-scenes insight into how the band broke out from the dingy club circuit to a world of gold records, massive arena shows, mansions, and international acclaim. The answer is in the title: Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp.
Unless you are a Rock Music historian, these names are probably new to you. Lambert was the son of renowned British composer Constant Lambert and had a “proper” private school upbringing, including an Oxford education. Stamp, the brother of actor Terrence Stamp and son of a tugboat captain, was the polar opposite – blue collar family with a street-wise education. This odd couple bonded over their love of French New Wave films, and decided to create their own film project to capture the restlessness and rebellion of British teenagers in the early 1960’s. Their idea was to film a band that captured the essence of the times, and this led them to put off the film project, and instead manage and mentor a group of “unattractive” mods known as The High Numbers … soon to be known as the The Who.
Much of the film is dedicated to interviews of the survivors. Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey from The Who, seem quite complimentary in their recollection of the influence of Lambert and Stamp, as well as the band’s late members Keith Moon and John Entwistle. Since Kit passed away in 1981, the bulk of the interview time goes to Chris Stamp, who is unabashed in his respect for Lambert and how their differing styles but single vision helped drive the band’s development through some pretty lean early years. Stamp passed away in 2012, so his interviews and recollections helped capture a time that would otherwise be little more than newsclips and home movies. His memories are a treasure trove for an era.
The film opens with a perfectly placed 8th century quote from Hesiod. This band of misfits and outsiders was being managed by two fellows who were equally misfit – the result being musical genius and never before seen stage theatrics. There is a segment with Townshend and Daltrey conversing about drummer Keith Moon that drives home the frustration and sadness that these two felt towards their bandmate, who was an exceedingly troubled man (Moon died in 1978 at age 32). When Townsend says “Keith Moon wasn’t a drummer … He was something else”, we know exactly what he means.
Director Cooper does a really nice job of keeping the focus on the two men behind the band, rather than the four lads on stage. We all know the music. We all know the tragedies. What we weren’t aware of is how Lambert and Stamp managed this band to reach the huge heights of success … and this theme is never lost. One of the most fascinating clips has Townshend playing an early and very rough cut of a song that he is working on for the two managers. He is begging for their input and suggestions – a level of openness we rarely glimpse from artists, and one that clarifies just how much impact the titular characters had on the band … right down to the songs and the stage act.
The film is a bit tough to watch at times what with all the quick cuts of photographs and clips … kind of dizzying and distracting. That reaction is probably a result of this being such a non-traditional … actually quite unconventional documentary. It is by no means a retrospective or tribute to The Who. Instead, and much more impressively, it’s a rare look at the fearless approach of two British gents who set out to make a statement on the times, and instead helped create something timeless.
watch the trailer: