As a fan of the English rock group The Who, I have to admit that I knew little of the origin story of the band aside from the conventional history, and only knew casually about Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, the band's managers from their beginnings until 1975 when Bill Curbishley assumed the role. Thankfully, the documentary Lambert and Stamp sheds new light on the managers and on their relationship with the band that others like myself may not have been aware about.
The film is directed by James D. Cooper, who was cinematographer on the excellent documentary Brother's Keeper some years back. Lambert and Stamp were aspiring filmmakers working at the now-legendary Shepperton studios in the early 1960s and decided they wanted to make a film about the British rock landscape and wanted to find a band to follow. They encountered a band called the High Numbers and despite having no previous experience to do so, became the managers of the band, renaming them the Who in the process. As the Who became bigger in the 1960s, Lambert and Stamp expanded as well, recruiting a young American guitarist named Jimi Hendrix to be part of their record label, despite having…no record label. Like managing, Lambert and Stamp learned putting together a label as they went, and released the Hendrix records in England.
For the 1960s (and perhaps any other era, for that matter), Lambert and Stamp where a contrasting pair; Stamp, brother of actor Terence Stamp (The Limey), was more brash and working class, Lambert was the son of a classical music composer, was multilingual, but was also homosexual, and was forced to hide his identity in underground clubs and in secret for long portions of his life. He was also an alcoholic and drug addict and his demons eventually dipped into the money the Who made, resulting in a falling out over wages. Lambert died in 1981 from a cerebral hemorrhage, Stamp reconciled with the band's surviving members (Daltrey and Townshend) and even attended the Kennedy Center Honors for the band before his death from cancer in 2012.
Cooper interviews Stamp and his brother, along with Daltrey, Townshend and others of the era, and one can sense even just when talking to Daltrey and Townshend that their thoughts and feelings about Lambert and Stamp remain somewhat palpable to them. When they recall interactions with the pair, there is a demarcation line almost, where the band's iconic album "Tommy" lies. The rock opera seemed to appeal to Lambert's artistic backgrounds yet ironically led to the dissolving of the managerial duties for him. The band remembers the times before that album fondly with the pair, and afterwards the mood changes. It is not one of lingering hostility that I sensed, but one of dread, as Lambert's behavior became more self-destructive. Townshend recalls his last meeting with him and wells up, as the feeling, decades later, remains fresh with him, as he seemed closer to the pair than Daltrey. Daltrey's role in the Who at least to Stamp's recollections was more of a long-term bet, where if given the material he would elevate the band with his powerful vocals, something he was able to do with "Tommy." Lambert's descent into further addiction in the ‘70s is also shown, with an inevitable dread that you sense from the recollections.
Cooper does a wonderful job of allowing those involved with the events of the era to provide the recollections, sometimes throwing in an on-camera question to spur additional discussion. The nice thing about Lambert and Stamp is it is a human story that happens to involve the members of one of the greatest rock bands of all-time, but the rise to stardom was intertwined with a camaraderie between the band and managers that each side feels, or felt, some pain in decades later, not for bad feelings, but because the friendship bonds were so strong coming up, as there would be for some a small project that turned global.
Even for those unfamiliar with the Who, Lambert and Stamp is a compelling film to watch because of those friendship bonds, and for fans of the band, they may be in for quite the treat. It even includes the third act faux-reconciliation (I think Stamp, Daltrey and Townshend had been cordial for some time before Stamp's death) in case you needed the bow on things. The film is a new angle on what may be a previously unknown story, and a fascinating one at that.The Blu-ray Disc:
Sony Classics gives Lambert and Stamp an AVC-encoded 1.85:1 widescreen transfer, with the results generally pleasing. The film juggles various shot film of the band and of the managers, both in black and white as well as color, and it replicates the vintage stuff as well as can be expected. The new interviews include the requisite image detail and solid color reproduction, and nothing has been done to the old video that I could notice. It is a treat to watch this old stuff in high-definition.The Sound:
We get a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless track that is not bad, even if it does not have that much to do. Most of the black and white concert film does not have power behind it though the music is clear, though once we start getting closer to the Woodstock stuff is when the power kicks. In old newsreel of World War II London (describing Lambert and Stamp's respective backgrounds), we feel the punch of the bombs hitting with some small moments of low-end involvement. It does not have much in terms of channel panning but it is still a nice soundtrack to listen to.Extras:
Cooper pitches in a commentary that is generally active and full of information. He has recollections about filming (as he should as it apparently was a production years in the making), and talks about anything from his process as a director to the cameras he used to film. He discusses why he wanted to direct this and speculates on the dynamic between Lambert and Stamp, and tries to provide additional historical context to boot. It is a nice complement to the film. Next up is a Q&A with Henry Rollins, held after a screening of the film (39:03), which is fascinating not only because of the additional light shed on the film, but the musician/spoken word auteur Rollins has an additional insight from his daytime job that makes for an unexpected admiration during the session. He asks Cooper if he thinks Lambert and Stamp would have been successful as Lambert OR Stamp, to which Cooper replies in the case of those two, "A + B equals the rest of the alphabet." It is worth checking out. Several vintage promotional reels follow, starting with "The Who in Finland" (9:02), which is just that, followed by "The Who Promotional Film 1967" (2:02), a silent affair. Next is film from the show "Where the Action Is," featuring film on the band (5:21), and more film, this time from the song "Call Me Lightning" (2:07). A trailer (2:09) and a digital copy of the film complete things.Final Thoughts:
While at first glance Lambert and Stamp may sound like the next season of True Detective, it is in fact a very good film about one of the best bands in rock history, told with a different angle that few may be privy to. It is done in a way that breathes new life into the era for the Who and for their music in the 1960s. Technically it is a good disc and the extras (specifically the commentary and Q&A) fit the bill. You don't need to be a fan of The Who to enjoy Lambert and Stamp.