James D. Cooper’s riveting documentary Lambert & Stamp tells the remarkable story of Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert, aspiring filmmakers from opposite sides of the tracks who set out to find a subject for their underground movie, a journey that led them to discover, mentor, and manage the iconic band that would become known as The Who. Featuring Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, Cooper takes us on the surprising ride of two men who shaped one of the most exciting bands of all time. Essentially a love story, Lambert & Stamp examines the complexity of a creative relationship while addressing the universal theme of self-discovery. The two men were from completely different worlds. Chris Stamp, the son of a tugboat captain, was a Cockney East Ender and “rough tough fighting spiv,” as described by his elder brother, actor Terence Stamp, in the film. Kit Lambert, the son of a celebrated symphony orchestra conductor, was Oxford-educated, multilingual, impeccably dressed, and possessed of an unmistakably highbrow accent and manner. The film details the pair’s critically important involvement with The Who as well as other prominent figures from that world such as Jimi Hendrix. Lambert died at the age of 45 in 1981. Stamp died of cancer at the age of 70 in 2012 after participating in the making of the documentary. I sat down with James D. Cooper to discuss this fascinating film.
Danny Miller: I’m a fan of The Who but I have to admit that I’d never heard of Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp. Were you always aware of their amazing history with the band?
James D. Cooper: For me, it’s the greatest untold story in the history of rock. I knew Chris Stamp for many years and knew he had this fabulous story with Kit Lambert and The Who but Chris was not the kind of guy who lived in the past. Every once in a while something would come up about that time period that related to the present and he’d tell these fabulous stories. He was such a great storyteller, as you can see in the film.
Did you know about that incredible cache of footage that ended up in the film?
I basically set out to do a love story, I never wanted to do a documentary on The Who. It all started with Chris Stamp. He is one of the most fascinating, captivating, entertaining, tough, and sensitive men I ever knew. Once he agreed to work on the film, we started looking around to see what footage was there to help tell the story. And thankfully, these guys were photographed quite a lot!
Was Chris Stamp immediately on board when you suggested the idea?
Chris had a practice of never standing in the way of any creative endeavor, that’s just the kind of guy he was. When we brought him the idea of the film, he didn’t say no, but he kind of went into a state of shock. This story is very thick for him, there’s a lot of stuff there. He certainly didn’t say anything like, “Oh, I’ve been waiting for someone to make a film about me and Kit!” But once he agreed to do it, I knew he wasn’t just going to show up and go through the motions, he was going to go very deep. I remember getting a call from him a few months after we first talked about it, and she said, “Well, if you’re willing to put yourself through this, then I’ll go there with you!” (Laughs.) Soon after that, we had lunch with Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey and they agreed to be part of it as well.
What I love so much about the film is how honest everyone is about their own flaws and what went down. There were a lot of difficult times along with many happy and triumphant moments and it’s fascinating to hear the perspective they have about it now.
There were all sorts of details we decided not to include. There was fabulous stuff about Chris and Kit’s journey in the film industry and some bad deals they made early on. But we ultimately decided that this is about a living emotional reality. We didn’t want to dwell on the specific circumstances or details but keep it moving by showing what these characters did in those situations. It wasn’t that we kept anything out because we were afraid of it, like the details of Kit’s descent in his later years, we just thought that the richness of the film was in how people transcended their circumstances.
Kit Lambert is such a charismatic figure it’s hard not to fall in love with him the minute he appears on screen. It’s fascinating that he came from such a different world and yet fit in so well. I love when Roger Daltrey mentions in the film about how Kit was the first “posh” person he ever met who didn’t look down on him.
Yes. Even though Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp were from completely different worlds, their common link was that they both felt marginalized. Chris Stamp was born into this very tough world of East End working class people who had some pretty bleak circumstances. You’re told, “Look this is the way it’s going to be for you. Maybe your best prospect is to be a foreman or something like that but forget anything else.” Now Kit was a descendent of the aristocracy. He was the son of composer Constant Lambert, the godson of Margot Fonteyn. That didn’t necessarily mean they had tons of money, by the way. The deal with English aristocracy is that you have these incredible titles and privilege and you can go to Oxford and be part of all these clubs but you may not have the money to pay for a pint!
You have some huge amazing house that’s been in the family for hundreds of years but you can’t afford to heat it—
Exactly! You’re using your priceless rug for a bedspread. Anyway, I think Kit and Chris not only recognized each other in terms of how each was marginalized in his own way, they unconditionally accepted each other as well as the band members. All of them were about breaking barriers.
It’s sad that Chris died in 2012 and wasn’t able to see the final film. Was he already diagnosed when you were shooting?
No, when we started he was in pretty good health. But towards the end of the film you can kind of see him going a little bit. His illness is something that came about during the course of filming but he never ever let how he was feeling get in the way of anything we were doing.
Maybe it even added to his urgency in wanting to tell his story?
Possibly. He definitely held it together for the shoot. It wasn’t long after we stopped filming that he passed.
I always liked the movie of Tommy but this film made me so curious about the version that would have been made if Kit Lambert had his way. Do you know any specifics about that?
Yes, Chris talked about it and I wasn’t able to get it into the film. It would have been very different. The casting ideas they had show that. Do you know they wanted Elvis Presley to play Tommy’s father? Elvis was interested and the Colonel had even agreed to let Elvis do it but I think there was a problem when they wanted him to be paid around five times the budget of the whole film! They also had the idea of Mick Jagger playing the Acid Queen. Can you imagine that?