“I feel the need…the need for speed!”
Watching a film feels far more comfortable with a cold beer and hot pizza in hand. The Prince Charles Cinema, off Leicester Square, is home to evenings that celebrate “old school” classics including Tank Girl and Road House amongst many more. Top Gun was recently screened in this manner, and I can only recommend the evening.
What separates Top Gun from the multiple “cult-classics” of the 1980’s, is rather than electro-pop and big-hair (though this is included), Top Gun includes dog-fight aeronautical action-scenes that adhere to the “MTV aesthetics” that led to the dominant style of filmmaking in mainstream action. Ridley and Tony Scott emerged from the (British) world of advertising – as did Fatal Attraction‘s Adrian Lyne – and moved into filmmaking through producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer at Paramount Studios. To be trained in filmmaking by creating short, less-than-a-minute adverts that grab your attention and stay in your mind, is a style of shooting and editing that hadn’t crossed over into feature-filmmaking – until the mid-eighties. During this period, “the average shot length dropped an astonishing 40 per cent, from 10 seconds to 6″*, so despite the cult-following that Top Gun garnered, it truly is a staple of US cinema by establishing a style of filmmaking that continues to this day as pace and “non-stop action” remains at the heart of blockbuster films.
Predictable, but Fast
Opening on fact-like text, gives a sense of importance: This is the military – we don’t joke. This immediatly changes as synthesizers and iconic 80’s pop thump on the soundtrack. The moment is similar to the use of “Push it to the Limit” in Scarface – with both films tackling masculinity and power. Combine the male camraderie with the quick-cutting and flawless MiG manouvres and within seconds Tony Scott has grabbed our shirt and firmly taken our attention. We’re in the “Danger Zone” as pilots swoop and twist around in – and beneath – various multi-million dollar aircrafts. There is a sense of awe, coupled with an immedicency as pilots communicate using pilot-jargon – “you got a ‘bogey’ on your tail!” or “this ‘mig’ can’t handle that type of speed” (or words to that effect). Roger Ebert says “It knows exactly what to do with special effects” – and, as the director of Enemy of the State, Man on Fire and True Romance, we know from Tony Scott, action is his strongest asset.
Characterisation and heartfelt story-telling on the other hand is not his strong-suit and the many clanger-lines, but apparently “romantic” moments are unforgiving – to the point that I would argue that the cult-following largely stems from the laughable moments of romance and friendship that often feel forced and predictable. Haunted by his missing Father, Maverick (Tom Cruise) and his partner Goose (Anthony Edwards) are promoted to an elite flying-school, in the hope of becoming “Top Gun” – amongst many pilots, Iceman (Val Kilmer) aspires for the same badge of honour. Inevitably, Maverick falls for Astro-physician and ‘Top Gun’ instructor Charlie (Kelly McGillis) and he slowly begins to realise that becoming ‘Top Gun’ is not as easy as it seems.
Any half-interested film viewer will be hard pressed to ignore the homosexual subtext to the film – and that rather than a film about pilots challenging and pushing themselves to the limit, it is apparently a film about a man coming to terms with his sexuality. The tension is clearly between Iceman and Maverick, as Iceman attempts to “win” Maverick to his side of the team and there is a crucial, awkward set-up as Maverick doesn’t consumate his relationship with Charlie in the first instance – taking a shower and then leaving. The uniformed appearance of all the pilots even adheres to the gay stereotype, something well-known by pop bands such as The Village people in the late 1970’s. The motorbike representing Maverick’s masculine identity and even the love-interest has a genderless name in ‘Charlie’, further confusing these themes. Ultimately, each pilot has a partner – in their wingman – and Maverick’s partner, Goose, has a name that has a sexual undertone as it is akin to the slang term to “goose” somebody.~
But the eroticised men playing volleyball takes a different interpretation as Mark Cousins compares the depiction of masculinity, and power, to Leni Riefensthal’s Olympia, whereby she was tasked to depict German Olympian’s in 1936 – championing the superior beings and transmitting it across Germany (and indeed, the world) as World War II began. Cousins writes how Top Gun “celebrated … masculinity and patriotism as Leni Riefensthal had done with her characters”. Furthermore, he simplifies the story as a “study in power rather than character”.
This argument is against the aforementioned subtext, and may be more about attracting a female audience rather than purposefully building-in a controversial theme amongst a clearly butch film. Joanna Berry believes Tom Cruise is portraying a “macho but deep-down-I’m-sensitive performance [that] appealed to the female audience”, and even in the sex it is shot sensitively with romantic, moody music as characters are in silhouette (tongues licking in the dark…).
The use of The Righteous Brothers ‘You’ve lost that loving feeling’ immediately recalls Ghost and Dirty Dancing‘s 1960’s soundtrack, released in 1990 and 1987 respectively. It seems that is part and parcel of the films at the time and, though the clear influence became Hot Shots!, any film with vehicles and men facing off against each other since Top Gun owe something to Tony Scott’s flight-film. How perfect that this weekend see’s the release of Fast & Furious 6 – a series that owes much more to Top Gun than it lets on. Indeed, I believe there is a theory about a gay-subtext in 2 Fast 2 Furious
* The Story of Film, Mark Cousins
~Homosexuality subtext: https://www.criticalfumble.net/forum/archive/index.php/t-13477.html