"There is no better dinner date than Chris Stamp," says James D. Cooper, whose debut documentary Lambert & Stamp premiered earlier this week at the Sundance Film Festival. The film feels like a night hanging out with the legendary Who manager – a juicy meal complete with gossip, anecdotes and insider intel.
Shot primarily in stark black and white, the film – which resembles mod London – unpacks the idiosyncratic connection between an unlikely duo: the posh Lambert, son of a classical composer, and the blue-collar Stamp, son of a tug boat captain. The result is an intimate look at how this partnership produced one of the greatest rock bands in history.
"I think it's the greatest untold story in rock," Cooper says. "It's a relationship played out through musicians on the rise to mega stardom, and how the dynamics of that relationship reinforce one another."
Cooper, a cinematographer by trade who has worked with everyone from Bruce Weber to the Maysles brothers, began the project about 10 years ago after seeing a picture of the managers. Awestruck by their dynamic, he approached Stamp, a longtime friend, about the possibility of shooting a film. "He didn't immediately agree," Cooper says. Eventually, the East-Londoner, who died in 2012 from colorectal cancer, signed on and recruited Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey.
The band members reflect candidly on their former managers, with additional interviews from writer Richard Barnes, Daltrey's wife Heather and Stamp's brother Terence. ("I do feel like they treated me differently," Townshend confesses of the time the managers moved him into a nicer flat to focus on songwriting.) But the film doesn't belabor the band's biography. Instead, it tells of Lambert and Stamp as two New Wave-obsessed cinefiles who wanted make a film about a rock band, and ended up producing the Who. Unlike other rock-docs, the film feels like an advanced study for avid fans rather than a concert footage-packed primer.
"I didn't want to stuff the pages of a book or make an administrative study," Cooper says. "That's not really the way you look at a love story."
The film delves into Lambert and Stamp’s novel marketing strategies like the 100 Faces Club and early concerns that the Who – then known as the High Numbers – were too ugly to be popular. Cooper also looks at Lambert's genius as a commercial producer and mentor who taught Townshend not to simply write songs, but how to compose a rock opera. We also witness how disagreements over the screenplay for Tommy left a wound that's still sore today. (Stamp says Lambert didn't get enough credit while Townshend thinks his manager was unfairly shopping his ideas around Hollywood.)
Still, despite these scuffles, it’s clear that a mutual affection persists. "Like all good manipulators you don’t even know what they’re doing to you," Daltrey says on screen. Townshend adds, "I loved them immediately."