Interview With James D. Cooper - Lambert and Stamp
I recently discussed the making of Lambert and Stamp with first-time Director James Cooper. More than just your usual music-related documentary, this stark film hits home on both an artistic and an informative standpoint. There are many brilliant insights into the relationships between both Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, and the complex relationships between themselves and The Who.
Right from the opening sequence you feel as though you've been transported back to London, but not the London of the "swinging sixties" that we've all become accustomed to in film. You feel transported to another London, the grim and gritty black and white of postwar London that was the formative cauldron that inspired the British Invasion in spite of the surroundings rather than as a result of it. Shot mostly in black and white, you feel like you are bearing witness to the formation of one of the greatest bands in the history of rock music.
This is Cooper's directorial debut and he makes quite a splash with it, having spent ten years putting this picture together. With the cooperative assistance of Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey and Chris Stamp, the film is a riveting look at the creative process that went into the formation and success of the band, giving the viewer some very inside views of The Who. Rather than focusing on the band, the film focuses primarily on the genius that was Lambert and Stamp and their sometimes unconventional methods. In many ways, it's the story of an unconventional yet platonic love story between the "six members of The Who".
What inspired you to make this film?
As a filmmaker, I was really attracted to the unique complex relationship between Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert. I think it's one of the greatest untold stories in rock.
Why did you choose to document that relationship rather than just do a traditional documentary on The Who?
I think there's already been a lot done on The Who, topographically. What really interested me in this project was digging deeper into the essence of how The Who came to be. As a filmmaker I thought it was a very complex love story, almost the Bonnie and Clyde of rock and roll. This film explores the evolutionary arc of The Who from a relationship perspective.
Lambert and Stamp seemed like such an unlikely pair, what do you think drew them together? Probably their complete acceptance and support of one another. Although each one of them came from very different circumstances, I think each one of them saw something in the other and it created a common bond. They did come from very different backgrounds, Chris Stamp was in a way "shackled" by the limitations of his East-end upbringing, while Lambert came from this fabulous aristocratic legacy, which was also like a ball and chain.
How did you first meet Chris Stamp?
I met Chris Stamp in the early 90's. He was working on a project with Roger Daltrey on a film about Keith Moon. He was a fan of my work as a cinematographer and we shared a lot of similar views on film making. There was a parallel vision on our approach to film. We had remained friends ever since on a kind of on-and-off basis for 15 years until I decided to make a film about he and Lambert.
Will we ever see that film about Keith Moon? In the film, Stamp states that he "just wouldn't do it". I just don't know what will come to be. Over the years I've heard rumors but like a lot of films it's just on-again/off-again, but I'm certainly not involved in it.
I found it ironic that Moon was the biggest defender of Lambert and Stamp near the end of his life. Was Moon's death a catalyst for the eventual decline of The Who and Lambert and Stamp's relationship with the band? In my thesis for the film there were six people in The Who, the four bandmembers and Lambert/Stamp. Certainly, the death of one of them would change the dynamic.
In my opinion, it was never the same band after Moon's death. Kenny Jones is a great drummer, but there was something missing. In the film, according to Chris Stamp, the death of Moon was to him the formal ending of the band, or at least the formal ending of the relationship between the band and their relationship. It was very ironic that Keith was the final hold out in the ending of that relationship. Keith Moon refused to sign anything he thought would harm Kit or Chris. After Keith Moon died, because his signature was no longer needed, the very day after his death, proceedings were started to dissolve the relationship. So Keith's death definitely symbolized the formal ending of the relationship with Lambert and Stamp.
Now that there are only two original members left, do you think it's time The Who should hang it up?
I think that's an internal question that only the band can answer. As long as they feel that they can still go out there and perform with integrity and deliver, I think they should do that. Last time I saw The Who, they were pretty well on point.
Perhaps they should join up with the remainder of The Beatles, I mean The Who lost their drummer and bassist, and Paul and Ringo are still with us. They could call themselves "The Whootles".
That would be interesting. I think with The Who, the music was always about the audience. There are still a lot of people who never got the chance to see The Who way back in the day, and at least we still have Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey.
Pete makes a reference to that in the film, that it's "all about the audience".
That was something that very strongly came from Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert. When they came upon The Who, they weren't trying to be in the music business, they were trying to be filmmakers, and they weren't so much interested in filming the band as they were interested in filming the audience, and I think this is something that seemingly carried through to the band's vision.
The film is somewhat of an eye-opener. I was always under the impression that the band themselves had created that entire mod look, but according to the film this was a very manufactured look on the part of Lambert and Stamp.
Well, I think that Chris and Kit didn't necessarily create the look, but they used it to full effect by identifying the fact that there was a whole audience and a group of people in England that wasn't being represented, and they found the opportunity to give voice and substance to them.
How did you obtain all that wonderful archival footage? There was a lot of research, and there's the relationships with Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, and Chris Stamp. They were all very supportive of the film being done. Telling the story of Lambert and Stamp was something that both Pete and Roger were very much behind, and that goes a very long way. The first thing I really looked for in supporting footage was how much footage I had of the two protagonists.
I found the film a bit "muddy" during the first thirty or forty minutes. Was this deliberate on your part? It was an attempt on my part to approximate the chaotic mind-state of the two protagonists, I didn't set out to make a traditional, trivia-based rock film. So rather than having hard trivial points in the film, moving from point A to B to C, I guess what you're picking up on is the non-chronological aspect and my attempt to convey to the viewer what it was like to be in the process at that time. The first thirty minutes are all over the place and convey a sense of "where are we" because that's what it was like at the time. I wanted the film to embody that.
It kind of caused me to want to go back after the film ended and watch it all over again.
That's the idea! What's really interesting is the feedback from people I've gotten who have seen the film on repeated viewings. What I get back is that the film seems to change every time you see it. The film is a little bit of a Rubik's Cube in that it changes ever so slightly on repeated viewing.
This was your first attempt at directing, did you find it more or less rewarding than doing cinematography? It's certainly different, you're in the game on every level. I really had to remain consistent over a ten-year period. The responsibility of a director on a project like this is to keep people consistent, and it challenges you on every level.
Will you stick with directing now? Absolutely. I'm working on a couple of new films now. I had a fabulous career as a Cinematographer for about twenty years, and moving into directing for me was a natural evolution of my creative art.
That's a long time, it's amazing that you were able to maintain continuity through a ten-year project.
You definitely have to have all the right people around to do it, and you have to keep them all in tune with your way of thinking and believing in what you do.
One of the quotes that I thought really stood out in the film was one made by Chris Stamp where he says that "all of the shitty songs were written by Entwistle", referring to "Uncle Ernie and Cousin Kevin". He refers to them as "horrible shit".
Well, Lambert and Stamp realized that there were four very different and distinct personalities within The Who, and they all had a very distinct role within the band and according to Chris, it was just more appropriate for John to do that. I think that's just the way that they all worked in the band and for lack of a better term, that was just the casting of the roles. Lambert and Stamp supported each member of The Who in the same way that a director does, they exploited the unique qualities of each one of them to it's full potential and did so brilliantly, and they managed to keep it all together.
What was Pete Townshend like to work with? I've heard he can be a real challenge.
I'd heard that, but he was absolutely fabulous. Both he and Roger Daltrey are consummate professionals and it was a real honor to work with both of them. I've worked with a lot of stars and celebrities throughout my career, but as long as you do your best to communicate and you are doing something that they can really identify on, it's just a matter of staying in that. But they were both outstanding to work with. The challenge for me was working with Chris, because he was very vulnerable on this because he was going back into a whole can of worms with his life and his relationships. It was a complex process for both he and I.
Did you ever have Pete and Roger in the same room at the same time? I hear they barely speak with each other except on stage.
I tried to design the film in a way that I could get as many different situations moving in a unified way. I shot them together, separately, and with Chris. I kept my involvement in that area relevant to the job that I was doing. Pete and Roger were worked with very differently by Chris, so I'm sure that's had a lasting effect on the relationship the two have with each other. Roger was left in a certain place while Pete was moved to another place, so whether that's responsible for how they are or aren't with each other today, I just don't know.
Pete states that Kit was very antagonistic towards him when he started to become more domesticated. Do you think that deep down inside Kit "wanted" Pete in a certain way? I think that what that statement was meant was Kit in particular felt as though he was losing his relationship with the band. Pete states in the film that "he never made a pass at me and that kind of bothered me". Kit and Chris were like the mother and father of The Who, and this kind of changed the dynamic. Kit's relationship with Pete was something very primary.
I believe Pete had declared he was gay or bisexual some years back, so I wonder if there was a relationship between he and Kit, in a physical sense.
Well, if there was, it certainly never came out in the making of the film. One of the things you see in the film is that Pete was actually encouraged by Kit to make some very bold statements, some of which were designed to prompt speculation as we are doing right now. Whether it's true or not or has a basis in reality, that's something that was encouraged by Chris and Kit. They told them "don't just answer a question, make a statement, knock them over". These statements of Pete's, I don't know. I didn't get into any aspects of his personal life.
What did Pete mean when he stated that "Keith wasn't a drummer"?
I think what he was trying to say was that The Who broke the mold. As Stamp says "we weren't trying to promote a musical act". It was all very unconventional and flew in the face of what everyone thought a proper drummer was. He was very much a drummer, but just not in the conventional sense. Pete was a guitar player but in the conventional sense, you don't smash your beloved Rickenbacker. A conventional view of management at the time was that you don't spend more than you make. You didn't encourage your band to go on national media and make anti-social statements. So he was just commenting on that. He was obviously an outstanding drummer.
John Entwistle really was the only conventional musician in the band then from that aspect, wasn't he? Apart from the fact that he was an amazing virtuoso on the bass in a way that had never really been seen before.
Well, in a way he was also very unconventional in the sense that he was completely unshakable. That's very unconventional. He didn't budge! So you had six very unconventional personas making one unconventional entity. That's why I thought it was one of the great untold stories in the history of rock.
Pete Townshend also states in the film that Roger "didn't know what he was doing [in the band] until Tommy had come out. I found that to be a very audacious comment.
The evolution of Daltrey within the film has it's own sub-arc, and again this relates back to the "casting" of the individual members of The Who. Chris and Kit didn't force people into a mold, they nurtured some people and let other just find themselves and were able to conduct this sort of organic chemistry. So when Roger "finds himself" with Tommy, it's like a great breakthrough and it shows the brilliance of how two managers can work with all these different distinct entities instead of trying to clobber them with "what kind of fits the current convention of the day". They were quite comfortable with having a front man out there trying to find his way, I guess it added something for them. They didn't try to polish it. It's a real visceral component to the element of The Who.
I've always thought that with the British Invasion, out of the five groups [The Stones, The Beatles, The Who, The Kinks, and The Animals], The Who were the only really original group. Nobody else really sounded like them. They weren't covering old blues or R&B tunes.
You could say that. Certainly they were original in many ways and they were coming from a different place and point of view. None of those other groups ever had managers that said "Hey, let's create chaos and make outrageous statements, let's set off smoke bombs, let's print all of our rejection letters from the record labels and put them inside our albums". It was all blinding brilliance and sheer nerve.
So perhaps The Who's image was more calculated than people realize, but the music couldn't have been. A lot of it has to do with the chemistry of The Who and how it was worked with, and how Pete was exposed to many other things. He was exposed to classical music, he was working with two brilliant managers where he was exposed to a complex identity and this led to the development of his own creative identity.
One of the things that really made this film compelling to me is that there was a mini-documentary on Tommy right in the middle.
I guess so. What I wanted to do with this film is get into the living essence of the band. I wanted to know where it all came from.
How well is the film doing? It's doing very well. It went theatrical, it's out on DVD with a Director's commentary, and there's also a great Q&A segment with myself and Henry Rollins on the DVD. The film has gotten great critical reviews in the US, Australia, Europe, and it continues to play at festivals.
For more information: www.lambertstampmovie.com