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LAMBERT & STAMP

Producer:  James D. Cooper, Loretta Harms and Douglas Graves
Director:  James D. Cooper
Writer: 
Stars:  Chris Stamp, Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, Terence Stamp, Richard Barnes, Heather Daltrey, John Hemming, Robert Fearnley-Whittingstall and Irish Jack
Studio:  Sony Pictures Classics

B+

If “Lambert and Stamp” were nothing more than a first-rate musical documentary about The Who, that would be a fine accomplishment. But James D. Cooper’s film is much more than that. Technically it’s a pretty dazzling collage of material, mixing reams of archival footage and exceptionally revealing interviews. But more importantly it’s a perceptive, ultimately quite moving tribute not just to a band but to an extraordinary man who was one of the major players in the group’s history, despite the fact that he never held an instrument and is no longer around to tell his own story.

That was Kit Lambert, who together with Chris Stamp (the brother of actor Terence), friends from very different backgrounds but both aspiring filmmakers, decided in 1964 to pursue an unusual project that would provide the material for a breakthrough documentary. They would find a rock band, become its managers, and then follow its rise, recording everything on celluloid as they went along. That project resulted in a mass of archival material, which Cooper supplements with news excerpts to provide not only a stream of evocative black-and-white footage focusing on the band itself, but on the milieu of the Swinging Sixties in which it emerged into the spotlight.

Stamp, who died in 2012 after completing the interviews that make up a major part of the picture (his brother also speaks on camera about their early, rather difficult lower middle-class days), tells us a good deal about himself in genial, often self-deprecatory reminiscences, but his major emphasis is on Lambert, the Oxford-educated swell (among the segments are a few showing him giving interviews in French and German during The Who’s tours) who was the son of Constant Lambert, a classical composer and conductor who died when his son was sixteen. (Ballet star Margot Fonteyn was his godmother.) A chain-smoking intellectual (observer Richard Barnes says that people joked he’d only used one match in his life, firing up each cigarette successively from the last), he was also openly gay at a time when homosexuality was still a crime in Great Britain. It was he who found The Who, then called High Numbers, playing to gyrating crowds in Barnes’ raucous London club, and secured the job of co-managers for himself and Stamp, though they had no experience whatever.

Still they succeeded beyond their wildest hopes, and the rise of the group, characterized by their onstage antics in destroying their instruments, is covered in brisk, engaging detail. Stamp provides much of the story, but more is offered by Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey, the surviving members of the group. And though they offer reminiscences about bassist John Entwistle and drummer Keith Moon, the focus inevitably comes back to Lambert as all agree on how he cultivated Townshend’s musical talent while leaving the others—particularly Daltrey—largely to their own devices.

Despite some friction within the band (Daltrey admits, for example, that he allowed himself to be goaded into violence by Moon), the overall situation among the six men—the quartet on the stage, along with Lambert and Stamp—seems to have remained reasonably solid until “Tommy” intervened. There was some dispute over how great a role Lambert had played in the creative process of the “rock opera,” but the real problem arose when Townshend passed over Lambert and Stamp as producer-directors of a film based on the album in favor of Robert Stigwood and Ken Russell. For the management team, which had already expanded their work into record production, the movie would have been the fulfillment of the filmmaking dream they’d begun with in the first place.

For Lambert, who was already involved in drug use, this accelerated a decline that ended with his death in 1981. His fate lends a deep sense of regret to the latter sections of the film, but interviewees Stamp, Townshend and Daltrey all emphasize the remarkable nature of his earlier years rather than the problems of his later ones.

Cooper’s dedication and skill, as both director and cinematographer, obviously deserve enormous credit for bringing so much material together so well. But kudos are also due to editor Christopher Tellefsen, whose cunning use of swift cuts, image overlaps and graphics—as well as bleeding color from some of the interview segments to align them visually with the black-and-white archival footage surrounding them—makes for a quite vivid experience. The result is not only a music documentary that’s worthy of its subject, but an exceptional work of pure filmmaking.

BRAVETOWN

Producer: Daniel Duran, Phyllis Laing, Danny Rodriguez and Oscar Orlando Torres
Director:  Daniel Duran
Writer: Oscar Orlando Torres
Stars:  Lucas Till, Josh Duhamel, Kherington Payne, Laura Dern, Tom Everett Scott, Jae Head, Katrina Norman and Maria Bello
Studio:  eOne Films

C-

When a film can be described as the story of survivor’s grief being cured by interpretive dance, you might envision some sort of lofty documentary. But “Bravetown” is anything but. It’s a weird combination of saccharine drama with “Footloose,” deadly earnest but utterly incredible, the good intentions overwhelmed by silly theatrics.

Lucas Till, a square-jawed fellow who looks every bit his twenty-four years, isn’t terribly convincing playing seventeen-year old Josh Harvest, a New York kid who works a club as a DJ who plays supposedly cutting-edge music for the rockin’ crowd. When he collapses from a drug overdose one night—just the latest in a string of petty offenses—his single mom (Mario Bella), a recovering addict, finally gives up trying to handle him and arranges with the judge to send him off to his father (Tom Everett Scott), who abandoned the family years ago but is now ready to take him in. Before the boy leaves she harangues him for blaming her for his troubles, admitting she never wanted a child in the first place.

So Josh arrives understandably sullen in Paragon, North Dakota, a town that wears its patriotism on its sleeve while sublimating its communal grief over all the fathers and sons that have been lost while serving in the military, which seems to be the sole employer ready to hire its young. It’s in this sad context that Josh will become a man by learning to care about others rather than concentrating only on himself.

This personal epiphany comes about when Josh is persuaded to use his talent at creating hip music to help the high school’s perennially disrespected dance team become a contender. In the process he gets romantically involved with its initially standoffish captain, Mary (Kherington Payne) and befriending her little brother Tony (Jae Head). The town’s grief—symbolized by a tree on which the medals won by residents in war are hung—is also encapsulated in their mother Annie (Laura Dern), who’s still suffering crippling emotional pain arising from the combat death of their older brother. It’s also represented in Josh’s court-ordered counselor Alex (Josh Duhamel), who spends his sessions with the boy watching soccer games on television until the kid begins opening up to him. But he’s also a veteran, and one with a secret about his time in the service that hobbles him emotionally as well.

It doesn’t take long for Josh to turn the dance team’s fortunes around—it’s a ridiculously easy thing to do, it appears—and before long they’re in the running for a state championship. Of course, Josh’s relationship with Mary gets him a couple of beatings from her ex-boyfriend, the town bully, and his thuggish friends (a seemingly obligatory plot point that’s just dropped when it becomes inconvenient). But in the end the boy realizes that the town won’t be able to break out its paralyzing grief until people can begin honestly opening up to one another. And the means he and Mary contrive to bring that about is to present as their team’s championship routine a battlefield-themed dance recalling one of Josh’s favorite films, “Platoon.” And we’re supposed to believe it works.

Writer Oscar Orlando Torres and director Daniel Duran obviously intend for us to take all this very seriously; the ponderous tone and dirge-pacing attest to that. But the inane dance sequences militate against our doing so. There’s some compensation in the performances of Duhamel, who seems to enjoy playing things loose, and Dern, who brings the sense of ethereal poignancy that’s become her trademark to a difficult role. Young Head is engaging, if amateurish, as Josh’s nerdy little friend.

“Bravetown” is professionally made; cinematographer Angel Barroeta even kicks off the picture with a long tracking shot that indicates he’s watched “Touch of Evil” or “The Bonfire of the Vanities.” But all the sheen is in the service of a script that frankly demeans the burden of loss so many Americans have to bear as a result of the nearly incessant wars of recent decades by suggesting that their plight can be addressed with something as simple as a few dance steps. Even if you applaud the filmmakers’ desire to confront a very real social issue confronting the nation, you have to admit that the way they’ve chosen to do so is peculiar indeed.