Tuesday, August 4, 2015


British rock was better than the American original for a few reasons: it added elements of its own that broke its self-copying cycle and it was made by a crop of prole kids with explosive style. Everybody knows that but no one ever seems to mention the managers. In the U.S., apart from Colonel Tom Parker, the messers 10% kept in the background where their hands on the strings were invisible to the public. They were old stagers who knew the carny tricks and the phonebook and spent most of their time keeping their little rascals clean for the cameras. In the U.K. the managers were in the same age range as the bands, looked as good and had the same style. Just as the bands were adding chords to the regulation three in their rock music their minders were steering them with new style.

If Brian Epstein steered the Fabs into a clean showbiz look he was happy to let them turn their press conferences into Goonish comedy acts and left the song writing to the lads themselves. Andrew Loog Oldham ramped this up with his Rolling Stones, playing off The Beatles as though the two bands were deadly enemies, delinquents vs tailored suits.

Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp were different again. Yes, they were young. Chris's swinging London leading man looks were from the same genes as his real life leading man brother Terrence (now in his sixth decade as a screen star). Chris was into movies: the French New Wave was in full flight and spooring its influence over the channel. He even worked on them in the crew. He wanted to direct his own. Kit Lambert did, too, which is how they met, comparing notes on the Godards and Antonionis in the zeitgeist while knocking back tea and eggs and chips in the local caff. But Kit was different again. Unlike Cockney Chris, Kit Lambert was all Belgravia, Oxford and champagne from Champagne. His father was Constant Lambert, conductor and champion of British classical music. There is a moment in this documentary that will tell you a lot about him and the whole team: it's 1965 and, as his charges The Who are noisily setting up behind him, he is addressing the camera on a German tv program, giving a highly articulate account as to why British rock developed its unruly volume and innovative qualities and suggesting that most of its practitioners will bland out into flavourless conservatives. In. Perfect. German.

The Who and Lambert and Stamp were a gang of barely controlled particles of matter and antimatter. Unlike the Beatles, there was no balance. Unlike the Stones there was no particular drive into a groove or need to rival the Beatles. With their artschool composer and guitar hero smashing his Rickenbackers on stage and calling for the autodestruction of all of pop music at each show and the others around him doing the same, the Who didn't need any steering. That would only have ruined it.

I knew all that. I like the Who. As a kid in the seventies, wincing at most of the rock music around him and turning to the previous gen's stuff, I knew and loved their mix of doowop harmony and machine shop clashing and their songs that weren't always about love. (Go and Youtube The Kids Are Alright for proof.) What I didn't know and what this documentary brings forward to get beyond the normal slide show and talking heads is the one step further: Lambert and Stamp didn't just want to be filmmakers and saw the Who as a means of starting this their own way, they got to the point where it was either the music or the movies. They really could've been either. Think for a moment: If The Who had fizzled after the mooted movie and L&S shrugged and went on to their next feature film we would have had a Brit New Wave team to beat the band (so to speak). Win/win.

Unfortunately, the way these things work it would probably only have been lose/lose. Lambert took a very practical mentor role with Townshend, developing a career path the produced innovation like The Who Sellout album and Tommy. After Tommy and the band's rejection of Lambert's screenplay for the intended movie Lambert grew increasingly estranged from Townshend and the band, the music industry and Stamp, falling into addiction and dissolution, joining the casualties of the second great era of rock music.

This documentary charts that side with the usual array of archive footage, contemporary interviews (including the legitimising presence of Townshend and Daltrey) but it allows us further access through a thorough examination of the role of management in this phenomenon. Its companion pieces are less The Kids Are Alright film from the seventies (impressionistic and enjoyable but very much a fan project) or the more comprehensive more recent Amazing Journey, than Andrew Oldham's book Stoned or the Areans documentary about Brian Epstein. The managers of the U.K. rock renovation were prey to the same forces that found the weakness in the youth and vanity of the musicians they drove, the hit parade of songs blaring above their choking and barfing on club floors or prescription pills in cold empty bathrooms. But if there is a grimness to Townshend joking about the lyrics to My Generation in his seventies or Stamp's warm and abrupt last word there is much to be gained by one of the best epigraphs I've seen on a rockumentary. I won't spoil that. It's worth seeing for yourself.

Screening notes: the Treasury theatre screening of this film was marred by a problem with the sound mix. The all important interview accounts were frequently obscured by the background music, as though we were hearing the rear channels in a 5.1 mix. I strained to understand a lot of what was being said. Well, I'll just lump it and get the blu-ray when it's out (it'll be a keeper).

Also, I almost got my holy grail seat. The session was sold out and the single chair behind me was empty. Ha! no boots in my back! But, no, the session was sold out and I had someone who not only sat so poorly as to ram his knees into the back of my seat but seemed to suffer from some nervous condition which compelled him to jiggle them rapidly every now and then. First, if you don't sit properly on a poorly designed cinema seat you will have back problems. Second, if you must force your knees into the seat in front of you to keep from sliding down on to the carpet, take your meds beforehand so they at least stay still. A couple of counter-shoves with my back and a look around stopped him, but still... Anyway...

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