1. Mav’s and Charlie’s romance is similarly subverted at the very end of the film . Charlie has given up the promotion she coveted during all of Act II to rejoin Maverick, unbidden, at Top Gun. At the “Kansas” piano bar, she feeds a jukebox to announce her return, playing the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” (1:42:55). Her approach mirrors the first meeting in the Officers Club when Maverick, hitting on her, attempted the song himself in a duet with Goose , backed up by a crowd of cadets (21:56; “I love that song,” she tells him then); now she and Mav reprise the earlier dialogue. Both framed in blue light that recalls their sex scene, he caresses her cheek, they appear to be moving in for the kiss, fade to black as “Loving Feeling” swells—

  2. Cut to a cameo featuring “ANTHONY EDWARDS as Goose,” followed by more for the other actors/pilots, as the two male singers hocket in an escalating, ecstatic call-and-response. They collect themselves for the chorus (“Bring back that lovin’ feelin’”), whose first downbeat brings back “KELLY McGILLIS as Charlie”; on the first downbeat of the answering phrase (“Whoa, that lovin’ feelin’”), cut to “TOM CRUISE as Maverick.” We’re supposed to recognize this as Mav’s and Charlie’s song, certainly, but what of the fact that the two singers recall Mav and Goose (if also, secondarily, the backup cadets), who impersonated them in the first rendition? And that these two singers, during the cameos, play together off each other at vocal altitude, one breaking into the stratosphere of his falsetto to defy, like the lead singer in “Danger Zone,” the earthbound limitations of his own voice? And that they ultimately join to sing in sweet parallel thirds, “driver” melody on top = in front, supporting melody below = behind? Notwithstanding the diegetic (and during the cameos, nondiegetic) function of the song as an earmark of Mav’s and Charlie’s romance, the romance enacted throughout by the singers themselves here is Mav’s and Goose’s.

  3. When the singers repeat that couplet of the chorus, the camera cuts on the second beat of the first phrase to the single jet winging across orange sky, presumably dawn; the frame shifts to reveal, on the second beat of the answering phrase, its companion alongside—Mav and Ice? They perform their aerial duet, arabesquing in a barrel roll, as the cue fades beyond audibility. Suddenly, “Mighty Wings” blasts in; the jets pass out of frame, and end credits sroll.

  4. The sequence leaves no question where Mav’s heart really is. Even after the father’s ghost has been requited, the buddy’s death redeemed, the rival won over—in other words, after Mav has negotiated those standard adolescent rites of passage, whose next step would have him leave them behind and sign on with Charlie—he’s back in the sky, playing with the boys, in the last action of the film. The point is driven home when “Mighty Wings” intrudes after “Loving Feeling” fades. Recalling “Danger Zone” in Act II, likewise following a generation-old classic that shifts from diegetic to nondiegetic space, it’s a power-rock number that “takes off,” as Example 5 shows, to nail a climax on . And if the climax in “Mighty Wings” doesn’t go on “forever,” as it does in “Danger Zone,” it’s the longest sustained cry in the song, prolonged further with an echo.27

  5. With and without the boys

  6. James Conlon’s reading of the Danger Zone as “not merely the arena of aerial combat but the arena of heterosexual love” crystallizes around such moments. He proposes in the world of the pilots that “women are the paradigmatic danger zone [indeed, as he says later, “the ultimate danger zone”] into which the male must venture, establish superiority, and exit from intact” (22). So it would make sense that Maverick, when he first hits on Charlie, spying her in the “target-rich environment” of the Officers Club, would not approach her alone. (Presumably the scene is a [PG-rated] enactment of Animal Night, in which “Top Gun pilots … have this club night and girls from all over Southern California come” [Cockburn, 31].)28 He enlists Goose in a routine they’ve developed, grabbing a mike and delivering their rendition of “Loving Feeling”; Goose takes the second line of the song, and the act prompts a dozen other cadets to back them up on their way to the chorus. (This is Mav’s and Goose’s first duet of two in the movie; “Great Balls of Fire” above is the other.) Staged as the gimmick is, there is a ritual aspect to it: a familiar script is being followed, built around an even more familiar song, a “classic,” and it keys into a pattern of collective male conduct. Ostensibly the featured aggressor here, Maverick is hardly an original or even solo act.29

  7. Maverick, in other words, needs other men in order to be a man. Remember the volleyball game: playing with the boys takes priority over respect for Charlie. Throughout the movie, when he misses beloved men whom he’s lost—his father, Goose—Maverick mourns them to the most instrumentally gender-neutral music in the whole film, as if masculine figures are absent from the musical forces just as from his life. The tune is neither titled in the film nor included on the album; I’ll call it “Abandoned.” As Figure 2 shows, we hear it in four cues through the second half of Act II, underscoring more than half of a nearly twenty-one-minute span; the last two cues are among the longest devoted to a single tune in the movie.

  8. timing
    locker room; Mav’s quarters
    “flying against Dad’s ghost”
    [two intervening nondiegetic cues]
    Goose’s death
    Viper consoles Mav;
    en route to Top Gun;
    Charlie consoles Mav;
    living quarters;
    Mav goes through Goose’s effects;
    Carole consoles Mav
    [segue into active, agitated music, to 1:16:54]
    airport lounge
    Mav adrift, Charlie says goodbye
    [cue fades after beginning of next scene at Viper’s, in which Mav seeks Viper’s help]
    Figure 5. “Abandoned”: the four cues.

  9. The featured acoustic guitar (its electric cousin dephallicized?), as it is played here, is one of the most intimate media in the Western instrumentarium. Easily covered by other instruments, its monodies do not project over long distance, individual notes decaying quickly; to play it, you cradle it, embracing it to the middle of your body. The synthesized layers supporting the guitar evoke a funeral parlor organ together with an orchestra of subdued (and acoustically unassisted) strings.

  10. Indeed, more is missing here than masculine personas. Tonally and metrically unsteady, the music wanders aimlessly through the most chromatic harmonic turns in the movie, including the only diminished seventh chords in the soundtrack; phrase lengths are not uniform. If the phallus rules with a vengeance in the rock numbers, with their overpowering volume, repetitive driving rhythms, and relentlessly pounded-out quadratic meters and four-bar phrases, it positively vanishes in “Abandoned.”

  11. *                      *                      *

  12. “Top Gun isn’t just a spectacle of pure aggression, it’s a suppressed sob of terror. The macho anxiety is palpable,” writes Hoberman. “Even the press book is in on the scam, emblazoned with a quote attributed to Cruise: ‘A Top Gun instructor once told me that there are only four occupations worthy of a man: actor, rock star, jet fighter pilot or President of the United States’” (59).30 Here is a skeleton key into heart of the film, in which the most desperate question for our young heroes is always the narcissistic solidity of their manhood. By the instructor’s standard, all the principal men in the film are worthy two or three times over: played by actors, pilots who imagine themselves rock ‘n’ rollers of the sky revel, battle, and triumph to the empathetic music of rock stars. The president at the time, who has no role in the story but was included in the roster perhaps as the pilots’ supreme commander, or perhaps as the unique bearer of the most narcissistically charged title in the USA (and therefore, certainly, the cosmos!), was likewise played by an actor. And seventeen years later Karl Rove’s president manqué, in order to hijack public discourse away from the policies of a belligerent administration driven first and last by greed and its unquenchable thirst for power at all costs—an honest-to-goodness, you-bet-your-life danger zone—and derail it onto the irrelevant topics of his manhood and the virility of his party, plays fighter pilot.

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27. The climax also recalls the “Anthem”: it is the moment of reprise.

28. From interviews with aviators, women involved, and a public affairs officer on the base, Vistica learned that “every Wednesday night at the Officers Club was ladies’ night, and guards were ordered to let on base any woman who showed up at the gate. Women came in droves, eager and willing to engage in a night of sex and drinking with the handsome flyboys. And Miramar’s police were unofficially told not to patrol near the Officers Club, where the fliers were having public sex or leaving the parking lot intoxicated. Wednesday nights at Miramar became almost as infamous as the Tailhook gatherings” (232, 414n6).

29. This scene, in which a crowd of cadets sings in raucous unison, uninvited, to an embarrassed woman cornered against a bar, predates the Tailhook scandal of 1991 by five years. While the events of that particular year are the most notorious, they were by no means out of the ordinary. Secretary Lehman, who assisted with the production of Top Gun and was acknowledged prominently in the credits, himself participated in the annual bacchanalia the fall after the movie was released. Accounts have him lying on the floor with a rolled-up dollar bill in his mouth while a naked hooker, squatting over him, grabbed it with her labia (Vistica 13–14, 233–35, 246). Conlon reads meaning into the chorus lyrics (and title) of the song: from the pilots’ vantage point, as an intelligent, independent, professional woman who is an authority in their domain, Charlie has lost that “loving feeling” of “acquiescence in male superiority” (20).

30. Cockburn (31) got the quote from Cruise in person with the jobs slightly reordered: president came third, pilot was elevated to final position.



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