I have a long history of seeking out, meeting and talking to my heroes and influences. And tonight I did it again! WOW am I excited. It’s been a long time since I’ve made any kind of connection like that, so it felt good to be doing that again.
I was looking for Exploitation directors who might be willing to talk with my Exploitation class at SAW. Of course Ferd and Beverly Sebastian were at the top of my list, but I’d found Beverly elusive, I thought I’d been close, but just couldn’t seem to make contact with her. I dig around, find numbers, email addresses, friends of friends, whatever, then I try and connect. With her I just couldn’t manage to make a connection. More often than not the people I approach are open, when they aren’t, I drop it and shrug it off. If they want their privacy, they deserve it, but for those who want to connect, I think the moments of mentorship (even of the briefest nature–even a mere encounter is a form of mentorship) are equally rewarding on both ends.
Tonight I tried again and found a phone number for “Ben” on-line on a site that was marketing films for Sebastian Films Inc. I thought “Hmmm… wonder if that’s Ben Sebastian who was actually in ‘Gator Bait with the unforgettable Claudia Jennings?” I picked up the phone nervously and dialed the number. No answer.
One minute later my phone rings, it’s Ben, “Ben Sebastian?” I asked. Yes, it was!
You have got to be kidding! I was nervous as hell, primarily giddy as a little girl over it. ‘Gator Bait is not only one of my top favorite Exploitation films, it may be one of my favorite films PERIOD. And here I was talking to one of the actors, the son of the man and woman who wrote and directed the movie… the very Ben who worked next to Claudia Jennings! It was like getting a letter from Jean Rollin or getting a critique through the mail from Frank Thorne. It was exciting and real and reminded me that real people make the things I love.
I was too nervous to talk sensibly, a little too taken aback at how REAL he was, and I mean that in the sense that ‘Gator Bait is no longer something that happened in mythic terms on some lofty inaccessible mountain. It’s solid to me now, I made a real-time connection… it’s now a part of me. Of course I’m hoping to work something out so that the Sebastian’s can talk to my class, but if that doesn’t happen and all I get is this one call to Ben, that’s pretty fantastic. I see these things on the mystical level.
And now, I’m only one degree away from Claudia Jennings, and have removed any separation between me and one more of the things I love: ‘Gator Bait. That’s important. I remember reading about all the people who sought out and befriended or went to see the great old American Roots musicians (all dead now) and I felt sad that I missed those opportunities, I wonder if the people who knew those musicians knew how significant it was that they got to have real in-the-now experiences with artists like Dock Boggs, Woody Guthrie, The Carter Family (who my grandfather said he knew), among others. As for me, at least I can say that I got to meet, talk to, and even befriend some of the men and women who worked on Exploitation films, and I am grateful that I do not let those opportunities pass, and more importantly, that sometimes I make those opportunities. Those films are an important part of my life, and of course, an important part of the world of cinema. And sadly the men and women who worked in Exploitation are aging, so it is ever the more important that we connect while we can.
As it is, I am delighted, buzzing, thankful, and hoping that I can not only arrange something for my students, but more importantly, pass along to them how important it is to reach out to the people who create the work they love. It not only brings the art and artists (filmmakers, musicians, whatever) closer, not only does it open the doors to the opportunity to learn from their heroes, and not only does it make the work of their influences a real and tangible part of their lives, but perhaps it presents the opportunity for a little mentorship, and mentorship is a powerful and magical thing.
What a magical evening! I will sleep smiling, and probably singing the theme song to ‘Gator Bait.
By the way, ‘Gator Bait is now available on DVD!