Is Beaufort residents' classic film "Shag: The Movie" one of the Top 10 movies made in the South?

eshaw@islandpacket.comApril 26, 2014 

From "Forrest Gump" to "Gone With the Wind," the South has been the backdrop for some of Hollywood's greatest films. Southern lifestyle magazine Garden & Gun recently compiled a list of the Top 10 movies made in the South and is asking voters to pick a favorite by April 30.

"Shag: The Movie," written by Lanier Laney and Terry Sweeney of Beaufort, made the cut.

Their lighthearted, coming-of-age movie follows four girls from Spartanburg, who road trip to Myrtle Beach for a last-hurrah weekend of fun and dancing before one of them is married.

Although the 1989 film lacked star power or a big budget, it was a hit among girls and sororities that came to idolize the main characters -- four Southern belles who were classy and chaste, yet knew how to have a good time. And it was quintessentially Southern in that it featured shag, the state dance of South Carolina.

"In L.A., they act like it doesn't exist. Here, there are girls who have seen it 40 times," Laney said.

Laney, who grew up in Spartanburg, said he was inspired to write "Shag" after going to New York in 1977 and being shocked at how Southerners were perceived there.

"We were KKK meets Dukes of Hazzard," he said. "That's not the South I grew up in."

Laney's South was family vacations to Pawleys Island and shagging to beach music, which was called "race music" in the 1960s, when the movie takes place. It was in the Grand Strand area of the state where the music and dance had its greatest impact among white teenagers, who flocked to black nightclubs and juke joints, where it was a staple.

As an adult, Laney took Sweeney, a native of Long Island, N.Y., to Pawleys Island to write "Shag."

Tapping into the female perspective of the film's protagonists was easy, Laney said, because he spent many summers around the pool at The Country Club of Spartanburg, listening to girls gossip about boys and beaches and having fun.

"You had to be Southern to get it. But you can be an upper class girl and be wild and go crazy," he said.

The dichotomy of innocence and debauchery, combined with a healthy dose of dancing and humor, made "Shag" appealing, even if non-Southerners didn't understand the culture or South Carolina's state dance. The fact that Laney and Sweeney were former "Saturday Night Live" writers also helped.

Once the story was written, Sweeney pitched it to the head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios. "The guy said, 'I don't know anything about this dance or what you're talking about, but you're very funny and I'm going to greenlight it,' " Laney said. "It's kind of a miracle it happened in the first place."

"Shag: The Movie" is serendipitously in contention for the South's greatest film on its 25th anniversary. The film is currently in third place behind "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Gone With the Wind."

"We're grateful Garden & Gun recognized it," Laney said. "I'm such a cheerleader for this region ... and the movie really promotes the Lowcountry.

"I just hope that we can keep the dance and the culture alive and that the movie will stand the test of time."

Follow reporter Erin Shaw at twitter.com/IPBG_ErinShaw.

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