Giant robots. Superheroes. Hangovers. Simple, discernible goals and propulsive narrative through lines. The term is “high concept,” and it’s the lifeblood of movie industry, particularly during the long, sticky summer months, when Hollywood rolls out film after film based on recognizable ideas with titles that double as plot synopses: Bridesmaids, Horrible Bosses, Friends With Benefits.
But what happens when the well runs dry and there are no more zeitgeist-y buzzwords or annoying, over-hyped social phenomena to turn into big-budgeted star vehicles? You focus on the details. Specifically, Details Magazine. Even more specifically, Details Magazine trend pieces.
Never ones to shy away from a snappy portmanteau or exaggerate the importance of a handful of jerks doing inane things, Details has long been the nation’s leading curator of marginal social ephemera and things that aren’t actually things.
And Hollywood has noticed, long turning to the publication for fresh ideas to be turned into feature films across a variety of styles and genres. Some of the most notable examples of this throughout history are as follows.
The Trend: Lesbros
What is it?: Like Fag Hags, but with straight dudes and gay women.
Movie: Mein Girl Freund’s Girlfreund, a moody, abstract German Expressionist horror film from Weimer-era Germany. Starring Emil Jannings, Louise Brooks, and an uncredited Marlene Dietrich. Directed by F.W. Murnau. Black and White, 70 minutes.
Tagline: “A symphony of platonic degradation.”
Synopsis: A shy Berliner haberdasher (Jannings) befriends a wealthy and mercurial tannery heiress (Brooks), who practices a modern form of lovemaking derived from the ancient texts of Sappho. The friendship is uncomplicated, until both parties fall under the spell of a mute flower girl (Dietrich) whose inscrutable motives and desires are a metaphor for Germany’s unsteady geopolitical footing in the years immediately following World War I.
Spoiler Moment: After nearly an hour of vying for the same women, The Haberdasher and the Heiress are confronted with an amorphous black void (scenic design courtesy of a pre-Beerhall Putsch Adolf Hitler), representing the futility of love in all its forms and the inescapability of the encroaching Madness. Together, they commit suicide by consuming an entire workboot full of hemlock.
Trailer Song: A shit-ton of Wagner.
The Trend: Grandpa Syndrome
What is it?: Cranky A-holes who think it’s cool to act like uptight old men.
Movie: Grumpy Old Men (Who Are Not, Point of Fact, Actually Old), a glossy, awards- season melodrama from mid-period Miramax. Starring Edward Norton and Jason Patric, with supporting turns by Juliette Lewis and Bart the Bear. Directed by James Mangold. Color, 154 minutes.
Tagline: “They’ll yell at you to get off of their lawn, and into your heart.”
Synopsis: Estranged siblings, an uptight advertising executive (Patric), and his irresponsible, comic-book artist brother (Norton) move back into their childhood home together following the death of their parents in a freak bridge collapse. Discovering their shared love of acting twice their age, the brothers bond by watching Matlock, being obliviously racist, and eating “supper” at 4pm. Patric falls in love with a young single mother (Lewis), who is actually an 8,000-year-old vampire. Norton rides a bear.
Spoiler Moment: In a surprise cameo appearance during a scene set at the brothers’ grandmother’s 100th birthday party, Will Smith bursts out of the oversized novelty birthday cake, punches the old lady in the face, and declares, apropos of nothing, “Welcome to Earf!”
Trailer Song: “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now,” by Celine Dion.
The Trend: Uncircumcision
What is it?: Pretty much what it sounds like. Also: gross.
Movie: Beforeskin and After, a ribald early-1960s sex romp. Starring Peter Sellers (in multiple roles), Natalie Wood, and a young Fidel Castro. Directed by Blake Edwards. Technicolor, 98 minutes.
Tagline: “Don’t tell the Mohel!”
Synopsis: Taking place entirely over the course of a single in an upscale San Francisco luxury hotel, a nebbish Jewish-American bellhop (Sellers) becomes infatuated the sexy daughter (Wood) of a visiting Arabian oil sheik (also Sellers). Amused by the Bellhop’s bumbling attempts to get her attention, the Daughter invites him up to her room later. Fearful that she will be repulsed by his shorn Hebraic phallus, the Bellhop sets out on a series of harebrained schemes to try and regenerate his long-lost foreskin—including voodoo, scientific innovation, and “performance enhancement” pills given to him by the 3rd baseman of the visiting Cuban National baseball team (Castro).
Spoiler Moment: A slapstick series of mishaps involving pewter serving domes used as penile counterweights, Seller’s bellhop ends with Sellers’ prized foreskin being mistaken for an exotic banquet dish by a pair of snooty dinner guests (Carl Reiner and Agnes Moorehead).
Trailer Song: “What’s New Pussycat?” by Tom Jones.
The Trend: Manorexia
What is it?: Dudes who hate to eat. Hate it!
Movie: Hungry Hungry H.I.P.P.O., a controversial 1970s political paranoia thriller, denounced by both the Freemasons and the Church of Scientology. Starring Anthony Perkins, Angie Dickinson, Brian Dennehy, and Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Lynn Swan. Directed by Don Siegel. Anamorphic color, 124 minutes.
Synopsis: Strange events begin occurring in the life of a gaunt young bookseller (Perkins) specializing in obscure occult tomes and discredited medical literature. He suddenly decides to stop eating, much to the alarm of his beloved airline-stewardess sister (Dickinson). Perkins’ tormentors are eventually unmasked as the mysterious H.I.P.P.O. organization—a nefarious shadow government whose true objectives remain shrouded in secrecy. The Bookseller attempts to flee to Buenos Aires, but is perused and captured by two disarmingly professional H.I.P.P.O. agents (Dennehy and Swan).
Tagline: “Eat not from the tree of knowledge… or anything at all!”
Spoiler Moment: Subjected by H.I.P.P.O. to a grueling torture regimen involving blotter acid, pre-recorded whale sounds, and unscrupulous dentistry, The Bookseller confesses that the real reason he never ate anything was simply because he could not find any food to his liking, and that there was no real nobility in his suffering. The Agents confiscate his library card and send him on his way.
Trailer Song: An orchestral instrumental version of “MacArthur Park” arranged and conducted by Ennio Morricone.
The Trend: The New Eunuchs
What is it?: Better living through castration.
Tagline: “They told him to grow a pair, he told them to get outta there!”
Movie: So Long, Boys! A big-budget MGM musical from the late 1950s, featuring (in a follow-up to Brigadoon) songs by Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner. Starring Rex Harrison, Ann-Margret, and Henry Fonda. Directed by Vincent Minnelli. Technicolor, 189 minutes.
Synopsis: In antebellum Savannah, an aging tobacco baron and lifelong lothario (Harrison) falls for a buttoned-up temperance advocate (Margret). Harrison renounces his wicked ways and couple eventually becomes engaged. But unfortunately for Harrison, he is continually tempted to infidelity by a maddening succession of beautiful, nubile young women—including a bawdy Candystriper, a mercurial French-Canadian Burlesque Performer, and the noble Negro Daughter of a recently-freed slave. He is further taunted by visions of Mephisto, who appears to him as a disarmingly genial and folksy tugboat captain (Fonda).
Spoiler Moment: Harrison and Margret are joined on the sun deck of a Victorian-era luxury liner by a chorus line of male castratos in straw boaters and seersucker suits for a heartfelt reprise of “An Invitation to Celibacy (Love Theme from So Long, Boys!).” A tearful Harrison empties the Mason jar containing his detached testicles into the churning waters of the Mississippi River, waving goodbye and warbling “Adieu… adieu…”
Trailer Song: Sammy Davis, Jr.’s pop vocal version of Lerner & Loewe’s “So Long, Boys! (Main Title Theme).”
So if you’re a struggling screenwriter sitting at Starbucks racking your brain for ideas, close up your laptop, walk outside, kiss the feet of the bronze Joseph Campbell statue that’s been erected outside on the sidewalk, and head for the nearest newsstand. The muse may be nearer than you think.