FILM REVIEW: The Merkin Man 

Local filmmaker spoofs a naïve TV format

Ah, the Lowcountry. Land of simple elegance and picturesque luster.

What a perfect place for a TV special like Devin Dukes’ Gettin’ Around the Lowcountry, a short film similar to public TV-style magazine shows, that visits charming locales for in-depth looks at South Carolina’s most colorful inhabitants.

In this case, that inhabitant is the merkin man.

A merkin is a pubic “wig” popularized in the 15th-18th centuries by prostitutes who needed something to cover up their “public” parts oozing with sores symptomatic of syphilis.

These days, merkins have resurfaced as “body furniture” for the kinky set.

Dukes’ 20-minute program boasts no kink. It doesn’t intend to, anyway. Instead, a perky reporter by the name of Rose Chase-Pinckney interviews Justice P. Courtney, a down-home merkin maker who uses Spanish moss to weave his wares.

According to Courtney, they’re still required in the Lowcountry, because we’re the tops when it comes to syphilis. Our medical techniques aren’t on a par with the rest of the country.

The twitching, tattooed bald guy declares that Charleston moss is the best in the world — pure, rich, and unique. He gets the moss from trees with a shotgun and smokes out the redbugs.

“They’re not good for down there,” he explains with a downward glance.

After the moss is killed, dried, and shined, a couple of ladies named Gert and Shirl cut patterns in the shape of the “landing strip” and the “Jimmy Buffet,” which are especially popular.

All of Courtney’s wigs, however, are selling like jelly rolls.

Maybe that’s because they’re “made with love for a world gone mad with syphilis.”

In case you haven’t guessed, Dukes’ video is a spoof in lightweight human-interest programming of the kind found all the time on public television and cable-access channels. Dukes premiered the video on Dec. 15 at the Walnut Hill Barn on Johns Island.

In Gettin’ Around the Lowcountry, the actors are earnest and professional, lampooning cottage industries run by canny Southerners. As Justice, Danny Hawkins leads the way with a mixture of natural acting and wide-eyed wonder. Lonnie Hubbard is memorable as Justice’s business partner (and third cousin), who’s bemused but delighted to be making money out of moss. Laurin McCarley and Madeline Dukes, as Gert and Shirl, add a feeling of documentary realism.

As the writer, producer, and director, Dukes knows some of the best comedy comes from treating a silly subject in a serious manner. He captures the pace and undemanding composition of a typical ETV program well.

Actually, Dukes might be on to something. A real life merkin (made of human hair) costs more than $300. Though Spanish moss may not be the best material, a rural business based on $19.95 pubic wigs could be a gold mine.

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