I love my two barefoot Godesses… Bardot and Shakira (at least I really dug her early stuff… before she was singing in English… but I haven’t kept up with her as much as I should have, so I don’t know what she’s up to now). Anyhow, I have always loved this photo of Bardot with a guitar, and I just found one of Shakira doing an homage to it. Good for her!
“If a person can’t shut up and celebrate the Beatles… what have they done to themselves?”
Justine Mara Andersen, while watching “The Compleat Beatles” with “The Beard”/aka Joseph Blue Sky.
Lately I seem to be suddenly getting a steady flood-like dam-break of friend requests on Facebook from fellow barefooters and fetishists (by the way… there is NOTHING wrong with the word “fetish,” nor with being a “fetishist!”), and I got to reading a couple of blog testimonials by other barefoot women and realized that I haven’t really dug too deep into the “why” issue beyond a brief post early on, so in greater depth… here goes.
For me the question “Why did I start living barefoot?” is closely tied to “Why am I so committed to being barefoot?” It would be hard to answer one question without talking about the other, nor the even more interesting questions of how and why I made the decision to live barefoot, not to mention what it was like to finally commit to that decision, and of course the real question, “What is it about being barefoot that has its claws in me so deeply?”
Where did this whole barefoot thing start?
At conception. I was into bare feet, other barefoot people and my own barefooting for as long as I can remember. It was easy as a child for me to just run around barefoot, but when my teen years and adult years came headlong at me (well before I was ready for them), the question of “to be or not to be barefoot” became complicated by social norms, peer pressure, and even familial pressures. I went barefoot whenever I could, almost obsessively, but there was always a heavy pressure to conform my feet to deforming shoes. As much pressure as there was to conform, as neurotic and self denying as it made me… I was born to be barefoot; hardwired to be barefoot–uh… among other things.
What’s the appeal of being barefoot, let alone the appeal of living as a hardcore barefooter?
I cannot tell a lie, it’s the sensuality, the physical sensation, the pure pleasure of it, combined with not only a sense of liberation and freedom, but I have also recently embraced the nonconforming aspect of it with great pride… after all, I no longer have any desire to conform to this culture of endless wars, angry political obsessions and propaganda, sports, sports and more sports, lousy music and lousier TV, and the all around bad (really bad) ideas of our times. I guess at heart I remain a child of the sixties (though I am too young to have really enjoyed the best of the sixties or even the seventies–bummer).Let’s talk about the simple physical sensation for a second… when I was a kid there was nothing more exhilarating than climbing a tree barefoot and dangling my bare feet over the dizzying drop! Why, I don’ know, but that sensation was perhaps the closest thing to the exhilaration of sex that I, a mere child, had felt up that that point, yet it was far breathier and far more pure and uncomplicated. It’s a high I still crave. Later, in my teens, that same thrill reappeared in a different form when I began to dig going barefoot as a clandestine act of rebellion. Somehow my parents’ stern demands that I stop running around barefoot just made the pleasure run deeper and ring out ever more loudly and ever more true. It was never enough for me to carry shoes or kick them off to the side, I preferred sneaking out of the house without them or ditching them under a shrub somewhere so I could run off unshod and unfettered. I needed the sensation to remain pure, unpolluted by the presence or even threat of shoes. This barefoot-centric consciousness was with me from my earliest memories.
There are a couple other important issues in the “why does this appeal to me” category, and one is mindfulness. I have a busy mind, and being barefoot cuts through the crap and offers me clarity, a way of being mindful of the moment. It is difficult to be out and about barefoot with a head full of worries or intrusive thoughts. Being barefoot demands attentiveness, to each and every step. Of course there is also the fact that I simply do not understand shoes. I can’t imagine going about my life day to day with shoes on anymore than I can imagine going about my life with earplugs in or a blindfold on. I can’t imagine smothering that much sensation from my life, that much bliss and sensuality. Perhaps at heart I am simply a hedonist.
Yet knowing all this to be true about myself and about the joys of being barefoot, I was still walking the line, I was still suffering under the pressure to conform when “appropriate” (by the way, there is no appropriate time or place to wear shoes if a person doesn’t want to; however, what is grossly inappropriate is that people are such shoe Nazis, when, simply put, it’s none of their business what anyone does or does not have on their feet, this is set in stone, it is NONE OF THEIR DAMN BUSINESS AT ALL IN ANY WAY SHAPE OR FORM… and this includes the bullshit “liability” argument). As I graduated college (I used to attend my classes barefoot, not even bothering to take shoes in my commute to campus) and entered the adult world (a hellish construct), I began to wonder if I could really keep this barefoot thing up once I was 25 or 30 and all growed up, and I started to feel the pressure to hide my shame and shod myself far more urgently than before. For years I struggled against my true nature. And was it ever a struggle. Then everything changed.
Why was I finally able to commit to living barefoot?
I have frequently credited being diagnosed with cancer in Korea and how nearly drowning 6 months later in Thailand changed my life forever in many deep and lasting ways, but I have rarely delved too deeply into those waters, so I’m going to finally do so. To tell the truth, prior to the cancer I was heading in a very bad direction anyhow, lots of drinking, deep depression, and far too many late nights in the clubs of Korea (where I lived and worked for 2 years), and I was not a happy girl back then, not in the least.
I will never forget what it felt like to be officially diagnosed with cancer, it was, simply put, the thing I most feared and dreaded… and ironically, the thing I most needed to get me turned around and headed down the path to individuation. After the diagnosis I sat in the hallway of the busy hospital in Seoul Korea and could not comprehend, let alone truly understand, what it meant to have cancer. I was numb, but aware that my life was about to become an ordeal of surgery, radiation treatments and nausea… and worse if the cancer had been aggressive and had already started to spread. I remember as I sat in that hallway that it seemed the lights had dimmed all around me, and though I was surrounded by the busy hubbub of one of Koreas busiest hospitals, I felt as if I were in an isolation chamber and filled with numbing drugs, a muggy hot night filling every hollow in my skull–rather like feet feel in shoes, as I think about it. I just sat there and sat there not knowing what to do next, not even knowing how to sit or how to move, or even how or what to feel. The best word for it would be… I was stunned. I mean, what’s a person to do after they’ve been diagnosed with cancer… go out to eat?
I survived the cancer ordeal, having fortunately had a form of cancer that is relatively easy to cure. But I still had to face 5 years of uncertainty–was it going to show up again, climbing up my guts? Shortly thereafter, 6 months later, give or take, I was in Thailand SCUBA diving. I hadn’t trusted the gear they had given me, but I had been told by all my dive instructors that I was too uptight about diving, so I did what they told me to and shrugged my concerns off–NEVER do that. When you are diving, it is your life on the line, follow your gut. Diving in Thailand is breathtaking, and this particular outing was the most spectacular dive I had ever enjoyed, unfortunately, as I had feared, I was slowly leaking air, and so was the assistant dive instructor, so I was asked to do an emergency assent with him. Unfortunately when we got to the surface I could not get my leaky vest to inflate, so I couldn’t float well at all, and the water had turned choppy, so I was taking in mouthfuls of water, and to make matters worse, there was no boat in sight! I was stranded in the middle of the sea with faulty leaking gear, choppy waves, and no rescue in sight. Far more drained from the cancer than I had realized, I became fatigued and was struggling to keep my head above water… and the boat was still nowhere to be seen. After a while I panicked, having taken in too many mouthfuls of water, having struggled too long and too hard, and I realized that the cancer hadn’t taken me (not yet) but this could very well be the end. I had honestly realized that it was very possible that I was going to die right then and there, fighting, panicking and frantic. I have never been more terrified. Fortunately, we were eventually spotted by the boat and rescued. I sat in that boat and was again… stunned.What kind of woman chooses to live barefoot? How could anyone come to that conclusion?
Before I go on, I think that all you have just read about my life and travels so far also helps explain why I go barefoot… I am adventurous and willing to take leaps of faith, and I crave experiences, sensation, and a good rush (if it’s the right kind of rush), otherwise I would not have been living, working and partying in Korea or diving in Thailand. I crave adventure, and as much as part of me has longed for security and financial stability, that part of me could never quiet my need for personal expression, extremes, and adventures. I am a restless person. But beyond all that, facing my own mortality twice in 6 months started the ball rolling. As I recovered from both experiences I was terribly confused and not sure what to do next, and I was afeard for my life. Whatever feelings of immortality I had as a youth, or had inherited from my careless father, were now gone. I knew now, unlike most of my friends who had never faced death, let alone twice in 6 months, that I could be gone from this earth at any moment. It’s a difficult thing to live with. That’s something many of us think we understand, but trust me, until we’ve faced our own mortality, or lost a loved one too young and too soon, we don’t. Before turning my life around, things kept getting worse, including my drinking. I worked as an illegal immigrant in Chile for a while, did carnie work for a few days, and was going through a divorce and living in a foreclosing house and facing bankruptcy. It seemed the misery that had erupted into my life with cancer just kept coming until I realized something very important.
“We can do what we want,
We can live as we choose.
You see there’s no guarantee,
We got nothing to lose.”
When did I get the courage to live barefoot?
There’s something about the combination of facing your own mortality twice in one year and having nothing whatsoever to lose that can straighten a person out. It took a while to work it all out, but I eventually realized that there were a number of things I needed to do, a number of ENORMOUS changes that I had to make before cancer, a diving accident, or whatever, took me out. What I needed to do was simply this… live my life. That sounds rather flat, so let me try and say that again, what I needed to do was LIVE MY LIFE! This, of course, means figuring out once and for all who and what I am, who and what I want to be, how I want to live, and how determined I am to see it through. As it turns out, I was very determined.
I realized that every single thing I had done or denied myself in an effort to conform, fit in, and succeed within the stifling rules and norms of our perverse culture had come to nothing. I had literally nothing at all to show for years, decades of self denial… bupkis! Sad as this sounds, as easy as it would be to turn this into bitter cynicism, there is a higher road to take, and that is the path of self realization and liberation, or even the Jungian concept of individuation.
What did that mean? It meant that if I had nothing to lose, if I might die without ever getting or being what I truly wanted and needed, and if all my attempts to conform to cultural demands had come to nothing, then the only thing left to do was turn my back, walk away, and towards the light, and the light was the me I had wandered so far from, , never discovered, lost or denied. I had become my own prodigal daughter, and looking back on it now, that biblical story has far more resonance when seen metaphorically. A prodigal son or daughter is not merely one who wanders from their family, but one who wanders too far from themselves and their center–the symbolism and metaphor are both flexible and far deeper than the silliness lost to fundamentalist translations. One part of the complexly layered and inevitable homecoming for me was that I was born to be barefoot, and I will not conform or submit ever again. I will never again wander so far from home, from self, and being barefoot is one important part of that larger sense of self.
I gradually made the decision after January 2012 that I was going to live my life barefoot. It’s been well over 2 years now. To tell the truth, I had been adamantly barefoot since 2010 anyhow, but this complete liberation and devotion to “hardcore barefooting” really started that January. The funny thing was, looking back, it wasn’t a clear decision made on a specific day, that just happened to be the first day I began my conscious and uncompromising barefoot lifestyle. It was a few months later that I realized I was done accepting any pressure to imprison my feet, and I was not going back. In fact I had found one last pair of dusty unworn shoes and ceremonially burned them. And it felt great! My toes actually tingled!
For a while it was invigorating to swing my feet out of bed in the morning and realize I was forever barefoot, no choice, no decision to make… I and my feet were joyously and wholly free! There was another feeling mixed in when I finally decided to be true to myself, to individuate, and that was that I had made this decision to live barefoot in Ohio right smack dab in the middle of winter. Of course, as I said, I had been barefoot in a very hardcore way since 2010, winters and all, but now I was committed and no longer had to even feel any pressure whatsoever to submit or conform. I remember the most difficult part being not so much the ice and snow, and not even the salt (the damn salt!), but the social complications that would come about thanks to my being barefoot in mid-winter. As you can imagine, I had to put up with a lot of funny looks and I had to face a number of challenges. Sometimes going out for groceries was quite an ordeal, as my bare feet felt so utterly naked around all those leftover Christmas decorations! It was an intense sensation, and not entirely enjoyable in public, but at times I rather miss that intensity. There were days when I would look out over the frigid snow and hard packed frozen slush from my front door, and struggle to work up the courage to go to the grocery store or post office. Secretly, privately, apart from the social pressures and judgments, on the most personal level, I thoroughly enjoyed sinking my feet into the snow, and I thrilled to watching my toes turn pink in the snow… and the numbness I experienced I found to be utterly delicious! But how was I going to make a living? A friend of mine hired me to work in his ghetto apartments as a cleaning girl… and by cleaning girl… I mean the hardwork of cleaning up after hoarders and some pretty greasy people. As a barefoot employee I felt the need to prove myself, and I can distinctly remember one winter day when it was about 12 degrees and I had to help him move everything out of one apartment into his van. It was positively frigid! I did fine for a while, but even I eventually had to bail out to cradle my toes and warm up in his van. Fortunately I had made a good case for my ability to work barefoot, so he found my waterloo amusing.
The right to shoes, the right to choose, I choose barefoot!I think the big day, beyond the burning of the shoes, but the biggest day, the one in which my liberation, not merely as a barefoot girl, but as a person, became complete was the day I got in the car with 2 people I barely knew, with no connections, no promise of a job, and nothing more than the money I had scraped together selling off guitars and stuff, to leave Ohio, family and friends, and start my new life in Florida, on my own with no safety net and bare and beautiful feet. It was terrifying and exhilarating to take off broke and barefoot into the great unknown… but then again, I had nothing to lose. That said, it was a thrill to be “running away from home,” so to speak… though as an adult.
Why won’t I just be sensible and keep some shoes around in case of emergencies?
I’ve been living 100% barefoot in Florida alone for over 2 years. Now I live in a beautiful lakefront property, teach at comics at SAW, do whatever illustration work I can pick up, teach kids, perform a little cleaning work, and go about my business as barefoot as I was intended to be. And how does it feel? Terrific! There’s a lesson here, and that is, don’t conform and don’t submit. As my dear friend Joseph Blue Sky says, “Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.” I was bold, and mighty forces came to my aid. I’ve become a bit superstitious about all this now, considering how much better my life is now than it ever has been before, I feel all the more determined to remain true to myself, to remain forever barefoot, after all, what did I get from conforming, submitting and compromising? Bupkis!
To paraphrase the Bhagavad Gita, “It is better to perform one’s own duties imperfectly than to master the duties of another. By fulfilling the obligations one is born with, a person never comes to grief.”
Furthermore, once I started living an honest life, once the prodigal daughter had returned and I started down the right road, I found my spiritual path through Hinduism, but only after I had fought those battles, after I was ready, and at the time when I was most ready to understand that this world and the imposed sense of self that results in being lost in it is all maya, and if it is maya (illusion), then I shall choose my illusion rather than the illusion everyone else accepts… which is no more or less “created” or constructed than the one I travel barefoot through.
Why do I choose to live barefoot? Because I want to, and it brings me contentment. And why, I ask, should I put on shoes for you or anyone? Eh, don’t bother answering the question, ’cause it won’t make a damn bit of difference. I’m Barefoot Justine.
(Some people have difficulty leaving comments on my site–Wordpress glitch–so if you can’t comment, feel free to go to my “contact” link at the top of the page and send an email. And for those of you who found this blog entry through a link, remember… there’s lots more where this came from if you visit my site.)
To read “‘Gator Bait & Me 1” follow this link: https://barefootjustine.com/2013/01/23/gator-bait-me/
The story of my dinner with ‘Gator Bait creators Ferd and Beverly Sebastian. I hope that my students and fellow artists will see this and find the courage to find mentors by seeking out their heroes.
I have been a fan of Ferd and Beverly Sebastian’s drive-in Exploitation classic… ‘Gator Bait for a very long time. The video (as in VHS) release poster I scored from a video store has been on my wall since as far back as the eighties; though the movie itself was released in 1973. For me, ‘Gator Bait was the perfect movie, it was love at first sight, right from the establishing shots and fabulously moody tone set by the opening song. First impressions aren’t always enough, the movie has not only held up through multiple viewings, but I have continued to notice little things about it that have continued to endear it to me. ‘Gator Bait is one in a million, and so are its creators.
‘Gator Bait is, at its simplest, a classic example of the (rape) revenge genre, yet it stands wholly apart and reveals its genre-subverting secrets slowly. One of its greatest strengths is its complete lack of cynicism and its warm and beating heart, which it always keeps in the right place… dead center. There is a depth of observation about the characters that always revealed a woman’s touch to me, after all, Claudia Jennings suggested the most rudimentary concept for the film to her friend Beverly Sebastian, who wrote the exceptional script. Beyond all of its obvious qualities ‘Gator Bait appeals to me for very personal reasons as well.
Firstly, Claudia Jennings as Desirae is not merely sexy, but strong and barefoot throughout, apart from a few shod minutes in the beginning. And she is not only barefoot, but a barefoot wild woman. Movies that fall under the “wild woman” category have long been favorites of mine–for I can relate to them. The problem with most wild woman movies and stories is that they more often than not reveal a deepset puritanical streak. More often than not the wild women in the movies must either be tamed and forced into shoes and submission, or worse… they must die for their wild “pagan” wickedness. See the otherwise wonderful Gone To Earth for just one example of the wild woman formula in action. In Gone To Earth, Hazel, the wild woman, is severely chastised (frankly, killed off) for her “wicked ways,” while the men (of course) all walk away healthy and happy. ‘Gator Bait is a rare exception in that the wild woman survives with her wonderful wildness wholly intact–if not hardened a little through the course of her adventure. Two of the most important factors that make ‘Gator Bait such a shining example of Exploitation at its best are its insightful and compassionate portraits of both the heroine and the villains. The writing reveals a woman’s touch at every turn, and a strong and passionate woman’s touch no less, and that woman, Beverly Sebastian, is a powerhouse. The villains, five men who have set out into the swamp to hunt, try, judge and kill Jenning’s character Desirae, all have their own motives and are bound together through the intertwining of their sins, ignorance and mistakes. Along the same lines, Desirae is brilliantly portrayed as a strong Cajun woman who falls into none of the traps of what filmmakers today errantly consider to be strong women.
Strong women do not abandon femininity to become men. Modern films take a grotesque shortcut when trying to create a strong female character, they rob them of every ounce of their femininity and turn them into characters as shallow, flat and uninteresting as their male counterparts. Strong women in modern films walk like men, chew gum like men, sling big stupid guns over their shoulders like men, and act every bit the asshole the men do… but they have ever buoyant breasts. ‘Gator Bait takes a much more enlightened approach. Rather than dismissing or degrading the truly feminine, ‘Gator Bait goes against the grain, celebrates it and reveals the sublime strength of primal feminine power. Desirae is no doubt strong and courageous (and a damn good shot, too), but she is cunning, sly, quick and quiet, and most importantly, she largely plays a distinctly feminine cat and mouse game with the men who sexually abused and murdered her sister and are now pursuing her through the swamps for a murder she did not commit. She plays these testosterone addled men like fools and leads them to self destruction. As the film plays out we slowly watch the men become more and more unhinged and frightened not merely of her and her swamp, but of each other. Such subtleties are rarely seen in Exploitation films… and I have seen and loved tons of them. Setting all that aside, and perhaps every bit as important as such subtleties, ‘Gator Bait does not make any promises it doesn’t fulfill, in the words of we Exploitation fans… it pays off!
Of course Ferd and Beverly have shot many tremendous and memorable films, even a second huge favorite, The Hitchhikers, another movie that made quite an impression on me. For a start, the lead is played by a woman, again, and she runs away from home barefoot. When I moved away from Ohio to Florida, I did so barefoot, and with nothing but the courage to take a leap of faith and the small envelope of cash I had acquired by selling off guitars, my car, and other stuff. As I walked out the door of my house in Ohio for the last time I could hear the music from The Hitchhikers playing over in my head. As you can imagine, the thought that I would one day meet the writer/producer/director team who created two such personally influential films was always a little faint daydream of mine. I have a longtime habit of seeking, finding, meeting and befriending my heroes, from the great artist Jeffrey Catherine Jones to French director Jean Rollin, whenever possible I have found my heroes and gotten to know them, thereby getting to know not only their work better, but myself as well. Those are the people I learn from. As an artist I haven’t spent much time with my contemporaries, not once I discovered I could shoot over their heads and aim for Masters and personal heroes–even in high school I was closer to my art teachers than the fellow students. For some time I had been trying to find Ferd and Beverly Sebastian, but they were elusive to say the least–read the attached and linked blog entry above for more on that.
Needless to say, having dinner with Ferd and Beverly several days ago was an unlikely and hard-won dream come true. And more than anything, that is really what this is about. I don’t care to review ‘Gator Bait, so many people have done that so badly already that I dare not cast my bait into those waters. Waters muddied by men (mostly) who would rather look down on the things they claim to love and laugh at them by using words like “Cheesy” or “Schlocky.” As for me, I would rather take the higher road and look up with respect and admire the things I love. If I am going to love something, why bother loving something I feel or see as being beneath me? I was never one to get together with people, drink, and laugh at movies, what a lowly and derisive pastime. The other thing such weak-minded reviews do is demonstrate that people do not know how to approach low budget, independent or “Exploitation” films. Most people come to them with eyes, ears and minds that have been brainwashed into only being able to view movies from a limited singular mainstream Hollywood-centric perspective. There are many ways to make, view, and consider movies, and in order to get all one can out of alternative, independent or low-budget film culture one must empty their cup before viewing a film like ‘Gator Bait. What I care to do here, rather than review ‘Gator Bait, is write about my evening with its creators and talk about how much it meant to me.
When I first contacted the Sebastians I had talked to Ferd on the phone, something their son Ben (who was also in ‘Gator Bait) had set up for me. Merely talking to Ferd on the phone flooded me with tremorous joy. As I hung up the phone, having set up a time and place to meet them, the anxieties crept in, the questions… will this be awkward, cordial, friendly, stiff, distant… or will there be a connection between us? When we (“The Beard and the Barefoot Girl”, i.e. me and my dearest friend and a fine artist, Joe Blue Sky) pulled up to the restaurant, within a few moments Ferd and Beverly happened to pull up right beside us. Shit! What are these people going to be like? I was set at ease by the warm and welcoming openness of our initial greetings. Ferd had looked at my artwork on this very site and was already impressed. That has been essential to breaking the ice for me. When I meet a hero I want to establish up front that I am not merely a fan, I am one of them, perhaps an equal. When one artist of skill and dedication meets another of the same skill and dedication the ice is instantly melted and a bond is easy to establish. This is never a manipulation on my part, nor is it boastful, it is merely my way of establishing that we are cut from the same cloth, that we can open up and communicate as equals. We must be at eye level, I cannot stand to be talked down to. Of course, Ferd and Beverly never once talked down to me, having seen my work made that impossible.
Once we all sat down together at the restaurant, Ferd and Beverly and Joe and I, I was astounded. ‘Gator Bait was now real in the sense that I had at long last connected not only to the movie, but now the man and woman who had created it 40 plus years ago were sitting with me and my very best friend over dinner! This movie was no longer something “other,” it was no longer some ethereal dream from the past that I would be forever at a distance from, it would now and forever be an actual part of “me,” of my life, it would be in my gravity and became ever so much more real. I like to get as close as possible to the things I love. It is a funny thing to think about, that until that dinner, ‘Gator Bait was always something distant, something I could watch but could never truly touch or take hold of, something I could never know intimately, it existed in shadows, like a dream. Now and forevermore, ‘Gator Bait will be something I have personally connected with. Moreso, it would now be something Joe and I had connected with together… this is a powerful bonding between friends and fellow artists.
For a while at first we talked about their (primarily Beverly’s, I think) newer project, her greyhound rescue foundation–for more on that go here and make a donation: http://www.4greyhounds.org. Additionally, Ferd has been running a sincere healing ministry after a profound and mystical healing experience. Joe and I naturally assumed they would be more inclined to talk about their present rather than their past, but soon into the conversation about their greyhound foundation, Beverly became emotional and said, “Enough about greyhounds, let’s talk about movies.” God bless her for that, now we were off and running!
For the next 3 and a half hours, after a meal and cups of coffee, we talked with ease and openness, like (dare I say it) old friends. I realized that these people were both (up around 80 years old) very present in the now, still as vibrant and passionate as ever, so I figured they would not want to talk about their films much past this conversation, so I wanted to ask all I had ever wanted to ask so I could leave them alone about it forevermore. From that dinner forward, it would be easier for me to see them in the future and only talk about their films with them when they wanted to do so. I don’t know if they are always like this or not, but the floodgates opened up and I learned far more about not only ‘Gator Bait and The Hitchhikers, but about their other films and the Exploitation film business in general, their methods, and Claudia Jennings than I ever could have thought possible. The next 3 and a half hours were staggering, even mind-blowing. But the most important lesson I learned was that just because you’re 80 doesn’t mean you have to accept the trappings of old age, no, they were as vibrant and passionate as ever, and both of them sharp as tacks, and this was so because they made it so. I need no longer fear old age… it’s all in the mind, you know! I want to grow old like Ferd and Beverly Sebastian.
Though I loved Ferd, as a woman with few real role models, Beverly soon became my hero, the one I most wanted to talk to and learn from. As a producer, I learned, she was terribly serious, did her research and the innovative and hard thinking it took to market her films, right down to her marking all of the area drive-ins on a map and figuring out which ones would be best for her films, as at that time they only had 20 prints of ‘Gator Bait struck. Their ad campaign involved taking out teaser ads in the classifieds sections in the places they thought would be most likely to be spotted by their potential viewers… keep in mind this was all done before the main ads were ever seen. This sort of ingenuity and classic ballyhoo had been essential to the Exploitation film biz, a beautiful holdover from the carnival, circus and Vaudeville days. Sadly, in this time and in this culture, that sort of thing is dead, and they are among the very last practitioners of this lost way of thinking. I for one am rather romantic about such things, so am delighted to hear stories from those who lived such grand adventures.
Beyond that they were patient with question after question about ‘Gator Bait, and not merely patient, they often went far deeper than I had been ready to ask. As a barefoot girl myself, and a big fan of other barefoot women, I of course wanted to know if Claudia Jennings and Misty Rowe were barefoot in their films because that was how the actresses were, or if they were barefoot because that was how Ferd and Beverly wanted them to be. Ferd clearly stated that that was their doing as the creators. Funny, I don’t know if this was disappointing or satisfying… I’m gonna go with satisfying.
I had heard that Beverly had written ‘Gator Bait in a weekend after Claudia Jennings had asked her to write a film where she could do a lot of action but wouldn’t have to speak much. Beverly confirmed that she had written the script in a weekend, but it was in no way tossed off by her, it became very clear as she talked about it that the script was positively inspired. She referred to ‘Gator Bait as “autobiographical,” so she understood those characters and their lives quite intimately. This film was easier than others for her, as she did not have to do so much research. She talked about the importance of research in regards to her other films, especially in learning how the people she wrote about talked. Beverly said if she made a film about prostitutes, she spent time with prostitutes. I, being a classicist and a big fan of research and disciplined approaches, was delighted to learn that we shared this thoroughness. This also explained why the characters in ‘Gator Bait all had such intense personal histories and motives… she was writing these characters from the inside out. And the closer I got to understanding how heartfelt and thorough their methods were, the more I understood why we were all getting on so well… we all created our works in the same spirit of dedication and sacrifice.
Of course Ferd had exciting stories about directing, especially about directing the actor who played the demented and tormented Leroy in ‘Gator Bait. Evidently, as convincing as the actor was, when they met him he looked like a little frail English professor. He had to prove to Beverly that he could frighten her, so he took a moment at the audition, mussed up his hair, grabbed a ruler and came at her as if it were a knife and he were Leroy. Hired! But our Leroy’s problems didn’t end at the audition, Claudia’s first day on the set involved shooting the scene where Leroy comes at her to finish her off, but Claudia had told Beverly that she just couldn’t be frightened of this guy, so Ferd gave the actor a brilliant bit of direction. He told him that as he stalked and approached her, to pretend he had a metal plate in the center of his skull, and a small metal ball bearing was rolling around on it, and if it touched the sides, it would blow his head off. The brilliant part is, when you watch that scene in the end when Desirae has set a trap for him, that he easily foils, as he comes down through the brush you can see in his eyes and posture that the threat of that ball bearing rolling too far to the side was ever present in his mind. And, of course, you could see the fear in Claudia’s eyes!
I learned a lot about Claudia Jennings, who I have always been fond of, too. What their stories about her did was wholly humanize her for me. In my mind, up to meeting with Ferd and Beverly, Claudia was something of a creature created by the media. What I learned from the Sebastians was that far from the vulgar and truly exploitive way Claudia Jennings was portrayed as a drug-hazed party girl on E True Hollywood Stories, Claudia was quite an innocent, another dedicated professional, and a very dear friend to the Sebastians. Far more than a friend, I think they were family to her. Of course I learned lots of other things and we talked about how misunderstood she and her tragic and untimely death were, but the Sebastians are still loyal and protective of Claudia Jennings, so I will honor that and talk about little beyond her professionalism. Besides, all we really need to know, and all that really matters, is that Claudia Jennings was wholly serious about her work, research and training, innocent, kind, and loving. And for the Sebastians to pass that along is an act of great love, after all, what greater gift can one do for a departed loved one than make other people love them as well?
Claudia’s dedication ran deep, she spent a couple weeks learning to drive that boat in ‘Gator Bait. They said she even wanted to do her own jumps over the logs and such (which they absolutely forbade), but she did do her other stunts all by herself, even going so far as to steer with her foot in the scene where she stands in the boat and shoots at the men. Similarly I learned that in Truck Stop Women Claudia demonstrated the same dedication in that she took the time to learn to drive a truck. These people, none of them, from the actor who played Leroy to Claudia and the Sebastians, were half-assing hacks… they were devoted and disciplined in their approaches, and any review of ‘Gator Bait that uses words like “cheesy” or “schlock” are to be treated with dismissal and contempt. It was important for me to learn that their working methods and philosophies were so disciplined and sincere, primarily because I had always hoped that was so, and it would have broken my heart to find out otherwise. Simply put, these are my kind of people, which explains why I have always been so drawn to ‘Gator Bait, The Hitchhikers, and will no doubt feel the same as I become more familiar with their other films.
So here it’s been almost a week since I met the Sebastians, and they invited me to call them again to come to their house in a couple weeks, and I am certainly hoping this happens. They are good people, and I need friends like them, but then again, don’t we all? Claudia Jennings certainly did.
To read “‘Gator Bait & Me 1” follow this link: https://barefootjustine.com/2013/01/23/gator-bait-me/
Found this today, and I rather liked both the article and the thoughts of the woman it is about:
Loved this quote, and it is something I have struggled to learn, accept and apply to the many struggles I face when navigating the average man’s world:
“As I get older I find that I value myself far more highly than to worry about what other people think.”
I also have to agree with the many points she makes, most importantly her point about enjoying the sensation of being barefoot too much to give it up. She is quite open about that aspect, and I find that refreshing. The sensation is fabulous, and to live without the threat of shoes hanging over my head has been a deep liberation. As I say: “I will not submit or conform,” and THAT is a hard and fast rule. If something requires conformity or submission I find a sneaky way past it or simply choose not to engage in that activity.
I have been kicked out of several places, (places, I might add, that are ignorant of health codes which do NOT require footwear). I have had to work out methods of stealth and discretion, as has she. She wears faux flip flops without bottoms, I find that rarely works, so I simply wear bell bottoms or skirts. I have found that with a modicum of discretion I have been able to navigate my life barefoot very effectively, even lately having navigated courthouses, hearings and the BMV barefoot (I had to do all this for technical NOT criminal reasons). So far the most powerful tool at my disposal has been a smile and a determined look into the eyes of would-be oppressors.
Like her, I have also had rare injuries, and the injuries that have happened to me had nothing to do with my barefoot lifestyle (for example: I tore off a toenail–which grew back quickly–in my room where it is “acceptable” to be barefoot).
Mostly it is simply refreshing to come across other people (women mostly) who are taking this up as a lifestyle choice.
Ladies… we are not alone!