Q&A with Steve Gebhardt

It was a long way for Steve Gebhardt from his hometown of Cincinnati to filming the Rolling Stones in concert during their 1972 tour in support of their then-new, now-classic Exile on Main Street album. But there Gebhardt was, making the concert film that was Ladies & Gentlemen…The Rolling Stones, which itself toured movie theaters in 1974 – in a special "Quadrosound" mix. And then it pretty much disappeared, not available on video or DVD…until now.

Capitalizing on this year's expanded, remastered version of the classic album, MCM Fathom – the company that uses new technology to broadcast special events to movie theaters – and Eagle Rock Entertainment are offering Ladies & Gentlemen at more than 530 theaters on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. MCM Fathom says the sound will be "5.1 surround mix working from the quadraphonic." It will have a special filmed introduction by Mick Jagger. Here, it will screen at Regal Deerfield Town Center in Mason and Springdale Showcase Cinemas.

So Gebhardt, who is 73 and lives in Prospect Hill, will get a chance to see his "lost" rock film revived and redeemed.  Last week, he sat for a Q&A about the film as well as another impressive gig he had - making movies for John & Yoko's New York-based Butterfly Films.

Q: How did Ladies & Gentlemen come about?

A: I got a call from Marshall Chess (the Stones' manager) asking if I would do this thing. He found out about me through Danny Seymour who was shooting (a Stones non-concert documentary) with Robert Frank. I met Danny while shooting Yoko Ono's Fly and he was shooting a film on Ono. I helped him do work on his film and he thought of me. So I got hired to put a crew together and shoot the thing.

Q: How big was the crew that shot this film?

A: It was (partner) Bob Freeze and myself plus a crew of associates who worked for us in  Cincinnati and Ann Arbor. It went off according to schedule; we shot what we were asked to do. We were paid for four cameras and had five, threw the extra in when we had to.

Q: What shows did you film?

A: Four shows in Texas. I started early and scouted the show in Kansas City, then flew with the Stones to meet my crew in Dallas/Fort Worth. There were two there and two in  Houston. We mixed and matched from the four shows - kept it in the order in which it was performed.

Q: Now, how did two guys from Cincinnati (Gebhardt and Freeze) get involved with John and Yoko in the first place?

A: I was hired by them because I was in New York as manager of Anthology Film Archives and John and Yoko were patrons of that. They were friends with Jonas Mekas (founder of the Archives) and one day they brought me in his office to shoot some films for them.

Q: And how did you meet Mekas, considered one of the giants of American avant-garde film?

A: Over years at University of Cincinnati Film Society, there was this relationship with him that grew. Jonas realized I was putting on this programming at UC that was bringing into Cincinnati everybody he recommended. We had filmmakers in from all over the world presenting films and running workshops.  It was a hot environment. There was a lot of activity here in that period in the mid-1960s as culture sort of matured. It was a very energized time.

Q: How was Ladies & Gentlemen presented in the first go-round?

A: It was a full-frame 16-millimeter film that I blew up to 35-millimeter. I had it reformatted so that the footage would become what is essentially today letterboxed. At the same time, the sound was replicated, not in a standard stereo, but in four-track, four-corners - different from the traditional multi-track playback which is three (speakers) upfront and one in the back. That's called surround sound. This was put onto magnetic-striped film, because the optical soundtrack isn't good enough, it got rid of the highs and lows. We were trying to make a special cinematic presentation -and we did. The first run of the film was done with this quadrophonic-striped soundtrack. They were expensive prints to have done. The concept was to make it unique. It became a technical oddball thing - the only film ever done that way. That was its unique beauty and also its downfall at the time. It's the same problem you have with 3-D. If you don't have the gear, it doesn't work."

Q: So tell me about your current projects? Haven't you been working on a film a bout Zaha Hadid, the architect of Cincinnati's Contemporary Arts Center?

A: There is a 90-minute version now of the thing I showed earlier at the CAC, which was three hours long and called "Zaha Hadid and Her Museum." That's done and I haven't done anything with it. There are actually two pieces, one on her career which is 90 minutes long and then I made a composite reel of all the other buildings of hers I shot while I was making the film on the CAC."

Incidentally, Gebhardt filmed another iconic "lost" concert film of the era - in 1971, working for Lennon and Ono, he shot Ten for Two, a highly politicized fundraiser in Ann Arbor for John Sinclair, a countercultural activist serving a steep jail term on a marijuana charge. Lennon performed at the concert along with Stevie Wonder, Bob Seger, Archie Shepp, Allen Ginsberg, Cincinnati native Jerry Rubin and more.

But that's had a recent fate different from Ladies and Gentlemen. "That's on YouTube," Gebhardt says. "Somebody from Michigan just did it." No formal theatrical release is planned of the film, which Gebhardt says belongs to Ono. "She didn't make it. She knows I made it and I don't think it matters to her."

Photography by Scott Beseler.

Rolling Stones photo provided.

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Steve Rosen is a Cincinnati-based freelance writer who serves as CityBeat's Contributing Visual Arts Editor and is a frequent contributor to The Enquirer. His writing also appears in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Denver Post, Dallas Morning News, Boston Globe, Variety, IndieWire.com, Western Art & Architecture, Paste and other publications and websites.