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Who Are They? 

This documentary on The Who is a tribute to a complicated band with a complicated but brilliant history

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“I didn’t want to be in a band until I was 61.” Pete Townshend makes this humorous observation in the compelling documentary “Lambert & Stamp” and it is, perhaps, one of the more believable things The Who guitarist has ever said.

Fans of The Who know that Townshend has often been a reluctant member of the band, especially in its early days and during their initial breakup in 1983. As this documentary from director James D. Cooper shows, it was the minds and actions of Chris Stamp and, especially, Kit Lambert that made Townshend come around to the idea of being a rock star.

It was Lambert who discovered the band when they were an R&B outfit called The High Numbers. He and Stamp had originally intended to make a movie about them, but wound up being their managers instead. Lambert encouraged Townshend to move away from pop singles. It was Lambert who pushed Townshend in the direction of rock opera, fueling Townshend’s enthusiasm for “Tommy.” In short, without Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, The Who may never have existed as we know them today. The film pulls from archival footage and fairly recent interviews with the likes of Stamp (who died in 2012), Townshend and singer Roger Daltrey to tell the story of the significance of these two men in the formation and success of the band.

It was Stamp (brother of actor Terrence Stamp, a.k.a. General Zod from “Superman II”) who suggested Roger Daltrey stutter the lyrics like a pill popper for “My Generation.” It was Stamp and Lambert who convinced the boys to revert to their older, and better, band name, The Who.

Lambert and Stamp had intended to direct a film version of “Tommy” directly after The Who released their album. Townshend reflects in the film on how he refused to look at Lambert’s script due to fears that his managers would leave after making the movie. Lambert and Stamp never got the chance to make the film (Ken Russell directed a different version in 1975), and by all accounts, this caused a rift between the band and its managers that would result in their exit in the seventies.

Stamp found himself in a direct confrontation with the band over allegations of mismanagement after drummer Keith Moon’s death in 1978. Lambert would die soon thereafter (in 1981) of a head injury after falling down some stairs, having never truly made up with the band. Cooper includes a moving speech from Roger Daltrey in a recent tour show where Stamp was in attendance, clarifying that the bad blood was healed. Stamp and Daltrey even tried to make a Keith Moon movie with Mike Myers. The project never came to fruition, but it did give the chance for the two men to bury the hatchet and work together again.

The film delves deep into the inner workings and relationships in the band. A deeply moving moment between Daltrey and Townshend has them discussing Moon and his depressive states. Townshend reveals that it was Daltrey who would put his arm around their band mate and try to help him, while Pete would just tell him to fuck off and quit taking drugs. The two also reminisce about the times each of them were fired from the band.

Another revealing moment that is fairly well known in Who lore, but hasn’t ever really been discussed in a film, is the fact that bassist John Entwistle and drummer Keith Moon had at one time intended to leave The Who because they didn’t like Townshend. They knew a guitarist named Jimmy Page, and they were close to forming a band with him called Led Zeppelin. Obviously, something else happened with Led Zep, and both Moon and Entwistle (who left the planet in 2002) died as members of The Who.

The movie, of course, features many Who tunes, and even draws from Townshend’s solo demos (released on the “Scoop” album series). While “Lambert & Stamp” isn’t the best documentary about The Who (that would be 1979’s “The Kids are Alright”), it is one of the best. Who fans owe a lot to Lambert and Stamp, and this film stands as a fine tribute.

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