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A Stones pic left unturned

Documenting the 'Exile' tour, 'Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones' vanished after its 1974 release.

March 30, 2008|Steven Rosen | Special to The Times

CINCINNATI — At first glance, local filmmaker Steve Gebhardt wouldn't seem to have much in common with "Shine a Light" director Martin Scorsese, despite perhaps a shared passion for the music of the 1960s and '70s. But Gebhardt, now 71, made his own concert documentary about the Rolling Stones more than 35 years ago, shooting the band during its 1972 tour promoting "Exile on Main Street."

If you haven't seen "Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones," though, you're not alone. The film, released theatrically in 1974, is no longer available on any format, something Gebhardt considers an oddity given the band's enduring popularity.

"They were hot," he says. "I haven't heard them do anything like 'Exile' since. I thought it was awesome to be watching them then."

The project dates to 1970. During his stint as head of John Lennon and Yoko Ono's film operation, Joko, Gebhardt and partner Bob Fries were shooting Ono's avant-garde work "Fly," about a fly buzzing over a woman in bed, in a loft where another filmmaker, Danny Seymour, was also working. Seymour was recruited to do sound for documentary filmmaker-still photographer Robert Frank, whom the Rolling Stones had hired to record their behind-the scenes antics during their tour, and Seymour turned to Gebhardt and Fries for assistance.

(The backstage footage resulted in another film, with a title that contains an obscenity, which has never been released.)

"They wanted something of them on stage performing, and they knew Robert's thing was backstage," says Gebhardt, who was a producer on the concert film and served as director of visual production. "He wasn't equipped to shoot a multi-camera, multi-audio track film. Danny thought of me, and I got this call from Marshall Chess [who worked for the Stones] asking me to come up with a budget to do these concerts."

The Stones of the "Ladies and Gentlemen" period consisted of Mick Jagger with Keith Richards and Mick Taylor on guitars, bassist Bill Wyman and drummer Charlie Watts.

"Ladies and Gentlemen," which features the band playing five songs from "Exile" in addition to material from "Beggar's Banquet," "Let It Bleed" and "Sticky Fingers," was released in big theaters such as New York's 1,000-plus-seat Ziegfeld, and quadraphonic surround-sound systems were designed to closely replicate the concert experience. Subsequently, a mono print was released, but even that is no longer available -- though some bootleg copies of the film can be found online.

Decades later, Gebhardt, his hair turning white, works out of his modest apartment in one of this city's -- his hometown -- oldest neighborhoods. He still makes films, such as last year's documentary "Twenty to Life: The Life and Times of John Sinclair," about the Detroit-Ann Arbor, Mich., radical whose imprisonment on marijuana charges became an early-1970s cause celebre.

Previously, Gebhardt had directed the obscure rock concert film "Ten for Two," documenting the 1971 Ann Arbor concert where Lennon played, an event that was meant to raise awareness of then-imprisoned Sinclair.

So many years later, Gebhardt says he's looking forward to seeing the Stones in "Shine a Light." "They're old men -- they're my age," he says with a laugh. "I'm amazed to see how Mick looks -- he's taking care of himself. And Keith goes on."

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