1. Excerpts from the song are transcribed on Example 2, annotated to show how Mav and Ice rival each other musically, both as individuals and also as the alphas in their respective partnerships. (In Navyspeak, Mav and Ice are the drivers of their two-man planes, Goose and Slider their RIOs, or radar intercept officers, who sit behind them.) During the first phrase of the lead-in, for example, Slider sets up a return by Ice at m. 10. In the reprise that immediately follows, Goose sets up a return by Mav at the analogous m. 14. Both setups and returns mark the first and fourth quarters, respectively. Later, in the first chorus, a cut to Mav begins the first phrase on the downbeat of m. 26; a cut to Ice on the last eighth of m. 29 anticipates by a hair the second, similar phrase. And on the last eighth of m. 25, at “boys,” after losing a volley, a determined Mav and Goose stalk away from the net, the latter’s arm draped over his alpha. At the parallel moment in the second chorus, at m. 47, Ice and Slider perform the parallel act in the parallel situation.

  2. The Maverick-Iceman romance is consummated during the final reprise of the “Top Gun Anthem” (1:38:58–1:42:33) on the flight deck of a carrier after a triumphant return from the climactic battle. Throughout the movie, the “Anthem” has celebrated the flier genius in Mav, especially when it asserts itself in not-by-the-book behavior. More broadly, it celebrates the whole fighter-pilot enterprise, not to mention the movie itself: its stentorian bell effects launch the film, even before fade-in to the first title; it takes shape under the following titles and into the opening sequence during prep for takeoff. We hear the tune proper as Mav flips off a MiG pilot (8:54); after he flouts the rules of a training exercise to beat Jester, then buzz the tower (32:40); when he learns about his father’s noble death, laying to rest the old demons that bedeviled him in the cockpit (1:22:07); when surrogate dad and Top Gun Ur-pilot Viper offers to fly with him on an urgent mission (1:26:53); and during the final battle, in which he recovers his confidence following Goose’s death and comes to terms with his loss (1:34:35). The tune is shown in Example 3a; its opening ascending fifth - is a token of stalwart, irrepressible heroism. Note the kinship with the heroic main title music from Star Wars in 3b.25

  3. The final reprise of the “Anthem” is its longest cue; the linked clip begins nearly a minute into it. After the portentous bell effects, a solo electric guitar swaggers through the theme over and over, eighteen times; solidly diatonic in C major for the first four passes and a bridge, it loops from C through an E-flat pivot to F-sharp major, as Example 4 shows, through an A pivot back to C. A nondiegetic answer to Stinger’s rhetorical question for Maverick—“How does it feel to be on the front page of every newspaper in the English-speaking world?” (1:41:58)—the cue evokes endless, self-perpetuating narcissistic pleasure. It also evokes desire and fulfillment. The signal feature of its short bridge is the swelling lead-in back to the theme, given on Example 4: an ascending scale, stretched out over four measures of V7 in a shimmering crescendo, strives for over I on the fifth downbeat. The consummation of the effort at the promised moment, a climax of the cue, brings return to the familiar tune.

  4. That climax is also the moment of diegetic consummation. During the second pass through the bridge, Mav and Ice confront each other for the first time since their victory. The jubilation of the crew around them abruptly mutes, to make acoustic room for the two lines of dialog and the underscore. Their brief exchange over the lead-in, each pilot insisting he’s the alpha, culminates in their embrace precisely at the musical climax. The event is momentous enough to replay on the next beat from another angle, so that we see the embrace both facing Ice, then again facing Mav. As the cue continues, Maverick’s complementary act, his letting go of Goose, follows directly after the scene. At the beginning of the third bridge, the camera cuts from the homecoming to Mav alone on the deck, holding Goose’s dog tags. During the lead-in, he hauls back, to cast them into the ocean at the climax. Here the culminating gesture is a goodbye. Maverick’s and Iceman’s union is confirmed in the final action of the film over “Mighty Wings.” I’ll say more about this shortly, in connection with Mav’s and Charlie’s romance.

    Mav and Charlie

  5. Maverick’s and Charlie’s progress to consummation occupies the second quarter of Act II, from dinner together at her place, through her pursuit of him, confession that she’s fallen for him, finally to sex. The “love theme” that underscores it is “Take My Breath Away,” performed by Berlin;26 as Figure 1 shows, it constitutes a self-contained block of four nondiegetic cues, interrupted between the first and second only by the diegetic “Dock of the Bay.”

    en route to and at Charlie's
    [diegetic "Dock of the Bay" intervenes]
    departing Charlie’s; elevator
    steamy encounter, interrupted
    . . . and resumed
    tax trailer; chase; bedroom
    Charlie reproves Mav; confesses; sex
    Figure 4. “Take My Breath Away”: the four cues.

  6. Because we never hear the music before or after this fourteen-minute sequence, the block of cues seems more interpolated into the nondiegetic musical flow than integral to it. Accordingly, the romance it underscores comes across as an interlude in the principal story, or a digression from it. (Recall that two of the scenes in this sequence, those in the elevator and the bedroom, were interjected after test screenings.)

  7. This is the only nondiegetic song in which the singers (there’s a lead and a backup) are women. Presumably, they enact a female point of view, identifying with Charlie. It is noteworthy, then, that the singers take so long to appear. At the very outset of the first cue , the bassist asserts himself as the front man of the band; he bursts in precisely on the cut to Mav racing his BMW away from camera against an orange sky. The lead singer slinks in only well into the second cue at 47:33, humming sensuously, essentially tracing the bassist’s tune in her own register. The third cue is again instrumental; the humming resumes during the fourth at 52:24, and the words begin only at 54:04 during the sex scene. Even so, with both singers delivering them, the balance in the ensemble is odd: the bassist, foregrounded throughout, still lives disproportionately large in the musical landscape (“When I first met you,” Charlie tells Mav later at 1:19:34, “you were larger than life”). To appear larger than life, after all, is a chief desideratum in the narcissistic economy of Maverick’s world.

  8. Beyond the bedroom, now, their romance is musically subverted by the two other competing romances. Their next scene together, at the “Kansas” piano bar, is underscored by Goose’s diegetic “Great Balls of Fire” at the piano; the name of the song is his tag line when he’s flying with Maverick (33:31, 59:23), and the music thus a signature of his and Maverick’s romance. Even as Maverick’s arm is around Charlie, with whom—according to Goose’s wife Carole moments earlier—he is “prime time in love” (1:02:54), he and Goose share a verse of the signature song to end the scene. (Charlie and Carole join in with somewhat less brio, satellites around the chief romance here.) The hopped-up nondiegetic instrumental version that overwhelms Goose’s piano thereupon carries Mav and Charlie through the night on his motorcycle in the next scene. Charlie may take Goose’s position behind Maverick there, as Mark Simpson notes (236), but the signature song makes clear that she hasn’t displaced him.

  9. Fade the cue; now Charlie and Mav face each other, straddling the machine, and as they kiss, a driving introductory beat emerges, crescendo. All the diegetic and musical signals indicate that something is gathering steam. The upbeat figure in the keyboard at m. 5 focuses the protactic energy of the percussion, leading to—Jump cut! precisely on the big downbeat to lurid dawn over the airfield: prelude to a combat exercise. This, of course, is the third “Danger Zone” cue, flagging Mav-Ice. “Hop 31,” Jester’s voiceover tells the pilots. After he reviews the status of the pilots’ competition, as we heard earlier , we’re in the air with them.

  10. To judge by this cue, Maverick’s moment with Charlie is really a preliminary to the main event with the boys; the make-out scene with her intensifies into the combat exercise with them. (Remember that Charlie, after the sex scene earlier, awakens alone in the morning to find that he has left a note folded as a paper plane.) Apparently Maverick, even while he and Charlie get it on here, is already revving up for the next Danger Zone encounter with his buddy and rivals. Perhaps, confronting her solo in the sexual situation, Maverick is invoking in some interior fantasy their exclusively male companionship, the homosocial world of the Danger Zone.

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25. Speaking also for co-producer Simpson, Bruckheimer said, “We see [Top Gun] as kind of our Star Wars on earth” (Cockburn, 30). Nor was the patrimony lost on critics; Detlef Kühn begins his review of the movie with a four-word summary: “The empire strikes back.” (The second release of Lucas’s hugely successful series, Empire opened in 1980, three years after Star Wars and three years before The Return of the Jedi.)

26. The music won Giorgio Moroder, who wrote it, an Academy Award for Best Song.



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