Remembering when Pete Townshend appeared in a student arthouse film in 1968
At a time when music venues and cinemas remain closed for the foreseeable future, we are looking back to a time to remember when The Who’s Pete Townshend turned his hand to the world of acting. Swapping rock music for arthouse films in 1968, the musician made a starring performance in the student-made project Lone Ranger.
Townshend’s appearance came after he had built up a close friendship with Richard Stanley who, at the time, was a budding filmmaker studying at the Royal College of Art. Stanley had managed to convince the guitarist to play a character in his project Lone Ranger and, not only did he get him to agree to an acting role, but he somehow also persuade The Who founder to provide music for his student film.
What makes Townshend’s decision to feature in the film even more staggering is that The Who were not young upstarts at the time of filming. The group had a vast reputation as being one of the most prominent rock acts on both sides of the Atlantic so securing his appearance was a giant coup from Stanley, to say the least.
The director would later reveal in a now-deleted post on Vimeo, where he revealed the organic nature of the collaboration: “The first idea for the film came out of many conversations with Pete Townshend about music and film, and his expressed interest in making a movie soundtrack. He was also thinking about Tommy in the same period.”
Adding: “The idea developed in conversations with fellow students Storm Thorgerson (later founder of Hipgnosis) and David Gale (later founder of improvisational theatre group Lumière & Son). Their good friend (and thereafter mine), Matthew Scurfield, became the main actor at the urging of Storm and Dave.”
Stanley shot the film in the South Kensington and Knightsbridge are of London across the January and February of 1968 during a break in Townshend’s hectic schedule. This was a historic time in London that Stanley remembers well: “We were all living in London at the height of its swingingness. But strangely, in spite of a great feeling of social change in the air, it all seemed normal to us. Looking back, it is more documentary than I thought at the time.”
He added: “None of us was quite sure what we are creating. A lot was improvised during shooting, although the scenes were all written as sketches of action and location. I specialised in camerawork at the RCA and was heavily influenced by French New Wave cameramen such as Raoul Coutard and Henri Decae.”
The film at the time was seen as a controversial piece of art by the board at Stanley’s Film School who even attempted to ban Lone Ranger from receiving a showing at the British Film Institute—a proposal which was met with a swell of student protests that eventually saw it reinstated. Stanley then went on to receive plaudits internationally for the film as it went on to receive a Golden Hugo at the Chicago Film Festival, as well as a script prize at the Nyons Film Festival, with Townshend’s prominent role making the film the talk of these festivals.
Watch the 24-minute film below, if you want to skip straight to Townshend’s music then go to the 11-minute mark.