If you’ve ever read my reviews of documentaries, it’s likely apparent that I have a difficult time measuring the worth of a documentary, as I think the value that anyone is going to get from watching one is largely dependent on the subject matter. So, on the off chances when I do watch a documentary, the question I find myself asking is “what about this film makes it good or bad as compared to any other documentary?” And now, for the first time since starting my film critiques, I may have an answer in Lambert and Stamp. This is a film that could have been much better, if only it had picked a thematic throughline and run with it.
Ostensibly this film is about the eponymous Kit Lambert and Christopher Stamp, aspiring filmmakers in the 1960s who struggled through obscurity in the film business. They collaborated on an idea to get their careers off the ground: they would find a rock band and, through managing the band, would make a film about that band’s rise to fame. This is how the duo became the managers of one of the most successful rock bands of all time, The Who.
Now, there’s a lot of material to work with in a premise like this. There’s the relationship between Lambert and Stamp themselves, their relationship with the band, their personal lives, pretty much anything that any other biographical arc in a documentary would cover. However, the star power of The Who pulls focus away from our supposed protagonists, making the most interesting parts of the film those that have to do with the band’s rise to fame, and not about the people who were responsible for it.
This is largely due to how the filmmakers decided to present the information they had archived, directly presenting rambling interviews with the surviving members of the band and Stamp himself (Lambert had passed away years ago) over archival footage of the band and, to a lesser extent, the managing duo. This is all quite interesting as a historical glimpse at rare footage of The Who and understanding some of the backstage drama that went into the creation of such albums as Tommy and Who’s Next, but it splits the film’s focus between being a Who fan film and a character study of Lambert and Stamp, causing it to fail at being either very effectively.
This is a film that will work for you only if you are a diehard fan of The Who and are interested in seeing the rare footage this film has to offer. In a sense, this also works as the film that Lambert and Stamp never got to make in their years managing the band, their whole purpose in pursuing management in the first place. But for a film called Lambert and Stamp, it can’t seem to entirely commit to either a representation of the duo or a representation of the greatness they enabled. As a result, it comes off as a bit of a directionless mess that most people shouldn't bother with.