Chris Stamp at left. Pete Townshend, and Kit Lambert at Windsor Jazz Festival in 1966 (Sony Pictures Classics)

Chris Stamp at left. Pete Townshend, and Kit Lambert at Windsor Jazz Festival in 1966 (Sony Pictures Classics)

Directed by James D. Cooper
Produced by Cooper, Loretta Harms, and Douglas Graves
Released by Sony Pictures Classics
USA. 117 min. Rated R

yellowstar Two surviving members of the band the Who, Roger Daltrey and Peter Townshend, receive extensive coverage in this new film, but they almost play supporting roles. Instead, this unconventional rock doc centers on two figures behind the scenes that made it all happen: Kit Lampert and Chris Stamp, two young British filmmakers who became the managers of one of world’s biggest rock bands.

As a British chap in his twenties, Kit Lambert, the son of a well-known classical composer, wanted to make movies. He set out into the wilderness of South America on a dangerous mission with camera in tow. This guy was serious. Meanwhile, a young Chris Stamp went to the movies in London, watching everything. He was asked by his older brother, the soon-to-be-famous actor Terence Stamp, what he wanted in life. “Girls,” he said.

So Terence sent his younger brother to the ballet as a stagehand. There, Chris found a passion for stagecraft. (If there’s one thing you should know about the Who, it’s their onstage persona. They had a theatrical attitude and presentation that imbued the band with a certain defiantly flamboyant aura.)

One day, these two lads meet in a cafe. They hit it off immediately and decide they will manage a music act together and make a movie to document it. It doesn’t take long before they discover a fledgling underground rock quartet called the High Numbers. Under the management of Lambert & Stamp, the group transforms into the Who.

This documentary devotes itself to shedding light on two largely unknown individuals tied to the fate of rock legends. It examines the skeletal makeup of the band, or as Daltrey says, in one of many philosophical/metaphorical/metaphysical ruminations dispersed throughout, “If the Who were the egg, Lambert and Stamp were the shell.”

Lambert & Stamp avoids the conventional and clichéd arcs one often finds in Behind the Music or in other recent documentaries such as A Band Called Death and The Punk Singer. The latter two are excellent accounts of lesser-known bands, but they all follow the formula of the Rise and Fall: this is when they do drugs, this is when they break up, and here they are old and grey in the present.

This film does not take such an approach. It covers mainly the band’s first decade, leaving out facts and trivia that most any fan can find on a website. Instead it uses archive footage taken by Lambert and Stamp (who were, after all, filmmakers) and intimate interviews with Townshend and Daltrey to create a full-spectrum account of “a team of people.”

The ghost looming over the story is Lambert, who died back in the early eighties. His influence on the group feels very alive. It’s fascinating to hear Townshend, a legendary songwriter, speak so humbly about his deceased manager.

But let’s not kid ourselves; there is a lot of tooting of one’s horns here as well. This is the band that smashed guitars and drum kits while briefly assuming the proverbial mantle of working-class rebel. And there is the infamous Keith Moon, who at one point Townsend says “wasn’t a drummer…he was something else.”

If you can get past the highfalutin and sometimes repetitive monologue that Lambert & Stamp puts forth, you will find a documentary that, at its best, captures the ’60s. With excellent material, wonderful editing, and the trust and confidence of great interviewees, this is the story the band has wanted to tell for a long time.