“Lambert & Stamp,” a new documentary about the early days of British-Invasion rock band the Who, leaves out some important material, writes rock critic Charles R. Cross. Rating: 2.5 stars out of 4.
In the mid-’60s, two aspiring filmmakers set out to make a movie about youth dissatisfaction in London. Almost immediately, they stumbled upon the rock band the Who, who were then calling themselves the High Numbers.
James D. Cooper’s “Lambert & Stamp” documents what happened next. Though youth dissatisfaction indeed plays a role — as anyone who has ever heard the Who song “My Generation” can attest — it’s not the film’s central theme. Instead, it is the origin story of the Who, and also a valentine to the unusual young men who managed them.
Chris Stamp came from a working-class background and had little film experience. But he had one calling card that would help — his brother was the famous actor Terence Stamp. Terence often bailed the managers out when they were broke, which was nearly constantly.
Movie Review ★★½
‘Lambert & Stamp,’ a documentary directed by James. D. Cooper. 132 minutes. Rated R for language, some drug content and brief nudity. Sundance Cinemas (21+).
Kit Lambert had worked on “The Guns of Navarone” and “From Russia with Love” before pairing with Stamp. Also, he had infamously been charged with murder when a fellow film crew member was killed by Amazon tribesmen. (Lambert was let off.)
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Oxford-educated, whip smart and gay when homosexuality was criminal, Lambert saw the Who and later said that first concert was “like going to hell.” (“We wouldn’t have been that impressive,” Pete Townshend remarks.) Lambert, though, also saw pop genius. He quickly tamed the band, became Townshend’s mentor and eventually the band’s record producer.
The story is told with impressive archival footage, much of it shot by Lambert and Stamp back in the day. That’s mixed with contemporary interviews from Townshend and Who lead singer Roger Daltry. There’s even a Jimi Hendrix side note: Lambert and Stamp formed Track Records when they met Hendrix in London and discovered he was not yet signed to a label.
Who fans will be this film’s biggest audience, but the storytelling is limited by the fact that Lambert died in 1981 (of alcohol and drug abuse). The Who’s Keith Moon and John Entwistle died of the same issues, and neither gets enough credit here for the band’s sound, perhaps because they are also long gone and can’t reflect back.
Another problem is that no matter how much the film attempts to be about Lambert and Stamp, it never leaves the Who for long. Stamp has the best quote about his protégés: “They weren’t handsome. They weren’t nice. They were outsiders and misfits.”
That may not be the only secret to musical magic, but it worked for the Who.