Is it possible to be accidentally definitive? James D. Cooper's thorough and revealing doc Lambert & Stamp is billed as the story of the managers who whipped The Who into being The Who. But once it's sketched out the characters and ambitions of Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert, putative New Wave filmmakers who got into rock 'n' roll for want of a chance to make a movie, Lambert & Stamp just happens to illuminate the glory and tumult of the band's rise with unexpected candor.
This isn't myth-burnishing hokum of the sort peddled by the Beatles-Industrial Complex. Instead, it's a frank examination and celebration of the way this odd-duck cineaste duo -- a working-class Godard freak and his posh gay compatriot, the son of a composer — urged this brash, centerless, unstylish band of street toughs and art students into the rock pantheon. Pete Townshend speaks with some pride of having mastered one of Lambert's principal lessons: Great pop success comes from reflecting the audience back on itself.
Lambert and Stamp's plan was to discover a band, manage them to success, and then direct a movie about them -- a round-robin route to breaking into filmmaking. That didn't work out. Cooper's interest is in the collaboration between the talent and its managers, in the way the duo urged their charges to conceive of their sound, look, and marketing as expressive of a singular vision. Much of the story comes from Stamp, who holds forth in candid, sometimes biting recent interviews, but Townshend and Roger Daltrey are on hand, too, speaking with rare honesty -- and at one point addressing each other directly about old wounds that seem not yet to have healed.