If you're in the mood to listen to classic Who tunes, you hardly need to buy a ticket to this documentary. You could just turn on your TV. Few symbols of '60s rebellion have proved as eager to sell out as Pete Townshend. He is evidently not even slightly conflicted about further enriching himself by licensing many of the period's most iconic antiestablishment musical statements to network crime shows and the highest-bidding auto maker. That said (I feel better now), this isn't really a movie about the Who or their music.
As its title suggests, Lambert & Stamp is about the band's odd-couple management team. It begins with a chance meeting and a clever scheme. Chris Stamp, the younger brother of actor Terence Stamp, was the working-class son of an East End tugboat captain. Kit Lambert, by contrast, was pure posh, the Oxford-educated son of famed composer-conductor Constant Lambert and the godson of ballerina Margot Fonteyn. Lambert was also openly gay when that was still a crime in England. About the only thing the two men had in common was a love of cinema — particularly the French New Wave — and low-level positions at Shepperton Studios in Surrey.
In the mid-'60s, Lambert and Stamp concocted a plan to sneak into the movie business through the back door. They would discover a promising musical group, become its managers and, once the band was topping the charts, make a film about its rise to fame. The young men had zero music-industry experience, but they had something infinitely more useful: unbelievably good luck.
The two soon found themselves in a London club filled with mods transfixed by a foursome called the High Numbers. Just imagine how many foursomes were banging away in clubs back then. What were the odds that Lambert and Stamp would stumble on Townshend, Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle and Keith Moon? Or that the future rock legends, rechristened the Who, would entrust their fates to a couple of hustlers with neither cash nor connections?
Cinematographer James D. Cooper makes his directorial debut with this entertaining, if incomplete, account of how the six men made it together as far as the creation of the rock opera Tommy before self- destructing.
Daltrey, Townshend and Stamp were the only participants still alive at the time of the shoot. They offer reflections ranging from the regretful (Stamp hoped to realize his dream by directing the movie adaptation of Tommy, but Townshend blocked him) to the magnanimous (Daltrey concedes that the managers were "the fifth and sixth members of the Who"). There's some fabulous archival footage, too.
One wishes Cooper had given us less of the present-day Townshend going on about his various spiritual searches and more about what it was like to attempt managing Entwistle and Moon. After all, not only were those two on the wild side, they were the greatest bassist and drummer in the history of rock. Lambert vanishes about three-quarters of the way through the narrative, and his 1981 death is never mentioned, much less explained.
Despite those and other gaps, there's no denying Lambert & Stamp offers an immersive, immensely enjoyable account of one of the most unlikely business relationships ever forged. Stamp is a born raconteur and provides some of the picture's most memorable moments. In my favorite, he returns to Shepperton in 2012 and recalls a meeting held there decades earlier for the purpose of dismissing him. By that time, he'd helped the Who become so successful that they'd bought the studio. "This is 'mismanagement'?" he muses with a weathered grin. "What is fabulous management?"