L to R: Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert
James D. Cooper, director of “Lambert & Stamp”
New Film Details Management Duo Behind The Who
Apr 03, 2015
In early 1960s London, aspiring filmmakers Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp set out to make a documentary about the city’s rock and roll youth culture. They signed a little-known band named The High Numbers to appear as their subject. That band eventually changed their name to The Who and became one of music’s most famous acts—but not without the help of the big-thinking, unorthodox management duo behind them.
A new documentary, Lambert & Stamp, now in theaters, shines a spotlight on these two iconoclastic characters and the legacy they left on rock and roll music. Director James D. Cooper spoke with us about the documentary’s origins.
Austin Trunick [Under the Radar]: Can you walk me a little ways through how this project came to be? From what I understand, you were already friends with Chris Stamp before there was an idea for a film?
James D. Cooper: Basically, we met through a couple of mutual friends. Working as a cinematographer, we met in discussions around a film he was trying to make at the time, which was a film on Keith Moon. We shared certain unorthodox views on filmmaking. We met at different points during the early- to mid-90s while he was trying to get his Keith Moon film off the ground.
At what point did you come up with the idea to do a film about his partnership with Kit Lambert?
That was some years later. That was, I believe—frighteningly enough—around 2004. My partner, Loretta Harms, the executive producer on Lambert & Stamp—she and I went to Chris with the idea for the film sometime in late 2004. By the end of [that year] he had signed on to do the film with us. We met with Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey shortly thereafter, and shortly after that in very early 2005 we began filming.
What kind of impression were you given from Stamp of his partnership with Kit, before you began researching it for the documentary?
I knew of the story, and I knew it was a remarkable story. The main thing at the time, in my knowing Chris, I knew that I had not only an inside view of this epic tale of these two characters and the rise of The Who, but I had a fabulous leading man. He’s strikingly good-looking, he’s very charismatic, and he’s a great storyteller—all of those great qualities of a leading man.
How did you pitch it to him? Did he take much convincing to get him to open up to you as much as he did?
Interestingly enough, Chris Stamp had a practice of never standing in the way of any creative process. [Ed. note: Chris Stamp passed away in 2012.] Loretta and I went to him with the idea, and he was understandably a bit hesitant, and for good reasons. As you can see in the film, part of the story is painful and tragic, and complicated, as well. For him to go back into a few different periods of his life was daunting.
I also think that he wanted to make sure that he could do justice not only to my expectations, but to represent the power and the essence of the rapport between him and Kit; to represent them and their time with The Who. He also knew that it would be an enormous undertaking as a film project, and it was. It was 10 years in the making.
We’re a very, very small company—we’re a small handful of people with great ambition but very limited means. Not unlike the early years of Kit and Chris, themselves. We had a huge, daunting task. I did have a plan, but we didn’t really have any money. [Laughs] Ten years later, we have a film to show for it.
One half of your subjects, Kit Lambert—he’s been gone for decades.
In 1981 he passed, so yeah, quite a while.
What was your strategy for making sure that he was still a presence within the film?
That’s a very good question. That’s something we were [thinking] about from the get-go. We’re basically making a love story here between two people, one present and one no longer present. That’s a daunting challenge. One of the ways we looked at that was to find what was attractive about the relationship. Well, the fact that they were opposites. One is present and one is not—that’s an opposite. [Laughs] So we worked with that, creatively. Thankfully these guys were photographed. Not only photographed, but filmed.
It was pretty conscious to have him present throughout the film in a way that you felt you were with him. It was really a question of what we had to represent him in the film. And you’ll see, he ultimately recedes from the film, the way he receded from the story itself.
He was an essential part of the narrative. You’re telling the story, but at the same time you’re trying to keep the viewer aware that there was this person who is no longer around. But we had certain sonic things, too. We had the use of his voice on talkback during the recording sessions. That gave him kind of an enigmatic presence. And then in the way we conducted the interviews with Chris Stamp, Roger Daltrey, and Pete Townshend—we kept it out of the past. We kept the conversations within a contemporary, living, emotional reality as much as I possible could, as opposed to dates, times, facts, figures—things you’d get in a more traditional, informational documentary. The conversations I tried to have in the film, I tried to have a living presence. When the footage of Kit we had to represent him was surrounded by that, it had a more contemporary feel to it.
When you were searching through all of this archival material, what was the most exciting thing you found?
It wasn’t that it was exciting so much as essential to the storytelling. Obviously, first of all we wanted to find the footage early on that Chris and Kit shot, of the High Numbers [an early incarnation of The Who]. Making the story about aspiring filmmakers moving into the most notorious management duos in rock history, we wanted to show their film. Roger Daltrey was instrumental in pointing our way to that. And then, of course, we wanted to find out how we’d represent Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert. We tried to find footage that represented them, and then we moved from there.
The most fascinating thing, for me, was working with this rare and untold story.
Obviously, the film is more about Kit and Chris than the band, but I have to ask—did you have a personal connection to The Who before this? Did you grow up a fan?
Well, growing up when and where I grew up, and being deeply connected to rock music, The Who’s music was always very good, important music. I liked it, and thought it was important. There was stuff that maybe I liked, but didn’t think was important—but The Who’s music I thought was important. I kind of came of age through rock in the early ‘70s. But, I didn’t really come to the film from the point of view as a Who fan—at that point in my life, I was probably coming at it as more of a Chris Stamp fan. [Laughs]
It’s clear from the film that both Kit and Chris had big ideas and were willing to take major risks. What did you take away as the key to what made their partnership so successful?
I think it goes back to their origins. The two things that are essential to a relationship, partnership, or creative endeavor: the recognition of one another, and the unconditional acceptance of the other.
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