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The Strange Saga of Savannah Sue

February 2, 2020
Written by Michael J. Masucci

Decades after I last saw her, I still do not know what to make of the tumultuous, and often contradictory force of nature that was Savannah Bentley Although she never finished even one video during all her time at EZTV, she, in retrospect, was among its most routine participants. For almost a decade, she would show up, unannounced, pretty much on a daily basis, to provoke, confuse or otherwise engage in the mindscape that was EZTV. John Dorr and I become unwitting indentured servants, videotaping an enormous amount of footage, for a project which went uncompleted.
Savannah Sue Bentley was a fiery redhead from Texas. She had worked as an actor in television, during the 1960’s, and bought a house, in the then Rock ’n’ Roll heaven, that was Laurel Canyon. She said that, back then, her neighbors, in the small winding roads around her, were the aristocracy of the music/cultural revolution- Joni Mitchel, Frank Zappa, Jim Morrison, Dave Crosby, the two lead guys from The Turtles. She said the most legitimate businessmen she knew, back then, were the dope dealers, and that the whiffs of pot smoke masked the fragrances of the jasmine and other flowers, which ran wild, in the then less-manicured properties which were built into the steep mountain passes.
Over time, the hippie sub-culture which claimed Laurel Canyon as ‘liberated territory’ had been replaced by yuppies and executives- Hollywood suits, lawyers and accountants. She no longer fit in. Mowed lawns, with ornamental pavement stone walkways and ‘water features’ replaced the muddy dirt paths, and Prada had replaced Birkenstock. And pedigreed mastiffs replaced the indigenous coyote population. The rotting old pick-up truck and rusty carnival popcorn machine, in her front yard became neighborhood eye-sores, where they were once symbols of her celebrated bohemianism.
She walked into EZTV, in its first years, and said she wanted us to help her produce a video about her legal battle with her neighbor. Her story about her trouble with him, varied from being a simple dispute over the height of a wall he had constructed between their properties, to seemingly paranoid accusations that he, the Mafia and the highest ranks of LA City Government (including the mayor) were conspiring to kill her. She said they all wanted her land, in order to make way for construction of multi-million dollar homes up the hill.
She said, that as we were ‘true artists’ (her phrase), she would never insult us by asking how much money it would take to help her produce her project. Instead, realizing that we should be compensated, she suggested that we tell her what “object” (i.e., piece of video hardware) as she put it, we would like her to ‘bring’ into the space, so as to upgrade our production capabilities.
We all thought she was crazy, and took none of what she was saying seriously, especially the part about buying us some ‘object’.
I suggested that she get us not one, but two ‘time base correctors”, which at the time would have cost her about $12,000. I thought that would send her away. Instead, about three weeks later they arrived, first, just one, than about a month later, the second one. These certainly transformed my own work at the time, my series of club videos I sold for several years already, under the name “Standing Waves”.
So, without ever making a formal agreement, we had the ‘objects’ she bought us, so we had to fulfill the production of her video. We expected to work on it for a few months. However, John and I were stuck, for years, videotaping her legal escapades, some more surrealistic than legalistic.
In one still hard to believe experience, I showed up at her house, having been told she was to meet with major representatives, of the city. When I arrived, she was dressed as Cinderella, and was holding an enormous globe. She informed me that today was to be an important legal maneuver. When the city reps arrived, they could, understandably, hardly contain their smirks and laughter, as Savannah proceeded with her ‘legal argument’ as she called it, by burying the large globe in front of them. When she was finished she said her demonstrative was over. They look perplexed, but glad to be done with her (at least for the day), they got in their cars and left.
On another time, I spent all day, with an undercover camera set-up in her perplexed, but cooperative neighbor’s house, to videotape her feuding neighbor’s dog, who somehow, she asserted, was spying on her.
Over the years, Savannah participated in a number of EZTV events as a performer. In 1986, for the inauguration of my West Hollywood Sign, she and a guitarist friend, serenaded the festivities after the unveiling of the sign. In 1987, she accompanied M’Lissa Mayo in her performance art event as part of the Fringe Festival/Los Angeles’ “24 Hours of Art”. She began fully-integrated into the sub-culture that was our lives.
I had often thought of EZTV as a living sitcom, complete with do-it-yourself laugh-track. Many times, Savannah would walk in, as if on cue, and we could, in our heads, hear the laugh-track kick in. Sometimes it was uncanny, almost weird, how she would walk into a conversation at an auspicious moment, saying something so on point, as if to be premonitory in nature.
I often wished she would just go away, And one day, she did.
I really hadn’t taken notice of it, but months went by, without her visiting. I was lost in my own world, and if asked, would have said how happy I was about it. Then after maybe a year, Sondra Lowell told me she had read in a SAG publication, that Savannah had died, about six months previously. She did not know the cause of death, and to this day, I have never as much as lifted a finger to investigate for myself, what had happened to her. I suppose I am afraid to know.
I’m not sure if she was a visionary artist, or a psychopath, paranoid, or victimized, but she was an integral part of all our lives for a decade. And I have carried the undersurface guilt all these years that she may have been telling the truth. Or at the very least, some partial truth. Literally scores of unedited videos remain here, to this day, ranging from her days at court to the nights in which she coerced friends to come over her house, to ‘eat boiled potatoes’, as a sort of ritual to influence her legal cases. I never knew the significance of those potatoes, but they meant a lot to her.
As Kate Johnson stated, in some strange way Savannah demonstrated the true spirit of someone who at least offered significant support for EZTV, before expecting massive amounts of service. By her purchases of those early Time Base Correctors she contributed to the development and support of the space, while most others simply expected free or very low-cost service ‘because they were artists’> Savannah was among the few who saw that we were also artists and needed ‘objects’ to expand and improve our own artmaking. She may have been crazy (or perhaps not) but she respected our situation while most others simply exploited it.
I have wondered on several occasions, throughout the process of creating this online archive, if I should somehow find the means to complete her video, and answer, the questions, at least for myself, as to her cause of death, and veracity of her claims.