James D. Cooper and Loretta Harms founded Motocinema in New York City a decade ago, as they produced the nonfiction film “Lambert & Stamp” — the story of how two aspiring filmmakers became the managers and creative force behind one of the biggest rock bands, The Who. The movie premiered at the Sundance Festival last year, and had its theatrical release in this country earlier this year.
“I think it’s the greatest untold story in rock,” said Cooper, the movie’s director. Unlike most rock documentaries, “Lambert & Stamp” focuses on the unlikely relationship between the two visionaries behind the band’s launch into superstardom. Although Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp were each cinephiles fascinated by the French New Wave movement of the early 1960s who wanted to make a movie about a rock band, they came from starkly different backgrounds. Lambert was the son of renowned classical music composer and conductor Constant Lambert, while Stamp was the blue collar son of a tugboat captain.
As they searched for a band that embodied the Mod trend that swept Britain in the early 1960s, they came across the raw, unpolished High Numbers (as The Who were known for a few months in 1964), and groomed them into rock stars, before falling out with the band and being pushed out as their managers. Lambert passed away in 1981, after a fall down the stairs at his mother’s home after a night of drinking. Stamp, who was interviewed extensively for this film, passed away in 2012 of cancer.
One key part of the story of their relationship and how they shaped The Who is when Lambert moved to New York City, seeking fresh inspiration. This segment of the movie was scored with some of Pete Townshend’s previously unreleased demos.
“I think what’s great about that New York section in ‘Lambert & Stamp’ is that at the time — I guess it was early 70s to mid-70s — Kit Lambert wanted to bring The Who to New York, to sort of shake the bag a bit. There were things happening in New York. We saw the beginning of disco, the sort of leading up to punk. I had a lot of fun with that sequence because New York’s a very different place now,” Cooper said. “It was like not allowing their own brainchild to be be too content. So Kit went to New York and started to engage — perhaps a little bit too much — the mise en teinte of New York at the time. He and Keith Moon apparently fell a little victim to that.”
Harms also noted the role of New York City in the rock scene and culture, as a whole.
“It was such an interesting era in New York, and I think the film really looks at that turn that was happening,” she said. “They were spending a lot of time in the States, they were touring in the States, and then there was that underside of the sex, drugs, and rock and roll that played out and the addiction and all the excess that came in with everything that was happening. The underside of all the fame and reaching that apex. New York is such an interesting character in that way.”
She and Cooper were both drawn to the city by its strong appeal as an artistic hub. “You couldn’t be anywhere else if you were an artist. I came from art school, more in the early and mid 90s, and I mean, you had to come here,” she said.
After the duo’s success with their first joint effort in examining the complex relationship between Lambert and Stamp, they look forward to continuing to explore complicated personal connections in their next projects. The filmmakers have two feature films in development, that “will continue the themes that we explored in ‘Lambert & Stamp,’ which is basically around the complexity of relationships in rather extreme circumstances and looking at relationship dynamics. Unlike ‘Lambert & Stamp,’ which is a nonfiction feature film, these are two dramatic narratives,” Cooper said.