Royal College of Art student Richard Stanley was pals with the Who’s Pete Townshend (at one point staying the summer at the guitarist’s flat at 20 Ebury Street) and convinced him to play a character, based on himself to a certain degree, in Stanley’s student film Lone Ranger. Townshend also did the music for the short which was edited by longtime Robert Wyatt collaborator (she’s also married to him) Alfreda Benge. The great Storm Thorgerson served as Stanley’s Assistant Director. The 22-minute long 16mm film was Stanley’s Diploma film for his M.A. from the R.C.A. in 1968. Apparently just a single, scratchy German distribution print of the film survives today: “The dirt and scratches do not come from a plug-in” writes the director on Vimeo who goes on to add that “the budget, as I recall, was 50 quid, but of course everyone worked for free.”
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.
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.
Lone Ranger was shot in South Kensington and Knightsbridge during January and February of 1968:
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.
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 specialized in camerawork at the RCA and was heavily influenced by French New Wave cameramen such as Raoul Coutard and Henri Decae. “The camera is a pen.”
Amidst all this chaos, three people were key in holding it all together: Chris Morphet, the cameraman, whose friendly cynicism has trimmed my bemused pomposity since 1963, and Alfie Benge, the editor, who somehow managed to build a new genre out of this bundle of sketches. And Pete, whose music somehow ties the whole thing together.
John Pasche, who did the graphics, was also the designer of the 1970 Rolling Stones’ lips and tongue logo. So Lone Ranger is perhaps the only project to unite creative connections between The Who, Pink Floyd and the Stones.
The star of the film is Matthew Scurfield, whose acting, it must be said, was rather uninhibited. This is a good thing.
From left: Chris Cornford, Matthew Scurfield, Pete Townshend
Amazingly, this eccentric little film was seen as controversial:
The board of the Film School tried to ban Lone Ranger from a show at the British Film Institute. Thanks to the protests of my fellow students, it was reinstated. The film went on to win a Golden Hugo at the Chicago film festival, and a script prize at the Nyons Film Festival.
Lone Ranger was shot in South Kensington and Knightsbridge during January and February of 1968
If you just want to get to Townshend’s music, scroll ahead to 11 minutes in.