Article | That Loving Feeling Meets the Danger Zone: Men, Sex, and Music in Top Gun, by Raphael Atlas

In the early pages of his classic manual on screenwriting, Syd Field hammers the point again and again: do it with the visuals, tell it in a picture.12 No one has taken the dictum more to heart than Karl Rove, the scriptwriter/director for at once the most aggressively staged White House in history and the most programmatically, systematically deceitful. Typical in conception, if particularly extravagant in execution, was the “Top Gun photo-op”

Figure 1: Click for Slideshow

Rove mounted during the early weeks of the Iraqi occupation in an effort to invent the chief executive as a war hero. Straight from the playbook of the Republican Party’s long-term campaign to code itself as virile (“strong on defense,” unlike its wimpy rival), the stunt contrived, the year before an election, to compensate for the incumbent’s embarrassing actual Vietnam-era record stateside that was distinguished by nepotistic interventions, extended no-shows, and disqualification. In early May 2003, the return of the carrier Abraham Lincoln was held up by days so that television viewers could be treated to images of the 56-year-old politician, costumed in a flight suit appropriate on a fighter pilot a generation younger, swaggering on deck from a Viking jet before a throng of cheering seamen. (The semblance of the high seas in the backdrop was achieved after the Lincoln was made to turn one hundred eighty degrees so that the cameras wouldn’t catch nearby San Diego.) On cue, the usual battery of partisan shills snapped into action, hoisting their megaphones to hawk their star’s manly sex appeal, even to the point of extolling the “presidential package.”3 So much for any illusion that interest in the First Genitalia among the defenders of family values may have passed with the previous administration.

Nearly two decades after Top Gun opened in mid-May 1986, both Rove’s elaborate multimillion-dollar knockoff and the claque’s overheated reviews witness its currency, its jingoistic power, and its central topic: young male sexuality and narcissism in combat gear. In the week following its release, one month after Reagan’s warplanes bombed Libya, it emerged the strongest performer at the box office and eventually became the year’s top-grossing film. A “brazenly eroticized recruiting poster” (Denby 102), a “110-minute commercial for the Navy,” (Lamar)—the Navy itself used clips in its own television campaign—it was made under the aegis of that service by director Tony Scott, who earned his reputation in television advertising.4 For the production, the Navy made available technical advisers, about twenty fighter pilots, two aircraft carriers, the Miramar Naval Air Station, and a small fleet of $37 million F-14s; Navy Secretary John Lehman personally interceded whenever snags came up (Lindsey).5 In return, the Navy reserved, and exercised, the right to alter the production as it saw fit; characters in the script were changed at its behest.6 Predictably, the movie helped to spark a surge in enlistment.7

The film’s overwhelming impact at the box office carried over into related markets. Orders for videocassette were pre-booked in record numbers, sales remaining in the top five for more than a year. 

Figure 2: The Top Gun Look

Like Flashdance, an earlier effort by production team Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, the release of which in 1983 was followed by an explosion of ripped t-shirts among young women, Top Gun spawned a new bomber-jacket-and-aviator-glasses look among men, ultimately even among kids.8 By August, the companion album had become the best seller in the country, no surprise to those such as Rex Reed who found the movie “nothing more than a lot of music videos strung together aimlessly as an expensive excuse to produce a hit album” (25).9 Actually, the releases of singles for radio play, the album itself, videos—four were generated—and the movie were coordinated to maximize commercial success.10

The score, aimed to appeal across generational boundaries, mixes contemporary mainstream rock of various stripes and three “pre-sold hit songs” from the Vietnam era (Hoberman 59). Indeed, the movie itself recuperated the national trauma of the war, following films such as Red Dawn(1984), Rambo II, and Rocky IV (both 1985) in the Reaganite hyperpatriotic climate.11 While Top Gun compensated for the trauma by eroticizing its glamorous military heroes and their world, the score, as much as any other single factor in the movie, shapes their sexuality and the erotic dynamics among them.

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The plot, as one would expect, is a cliché: wildcard pilot of an F-14, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) “grows up.” Introduced as a hotdog in Act I, he competes throughout Act II for alpha status with other crack cadets at the Navy’s elite flight school in Miramar, nicknamed Top Gun.12 Meanwhile, he abandons his relentless pursuit of casual heterosex in favor of a slightly older woman, astrophysicist and flight instructor Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood (Kelly McGillis). After the death during a training exercise of his buddy Nick “Goose” Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards), in fact his only friend, he comes to terms in Act III with the haunting memory of his fighter-pilot father, lost over Cambodia, and develops into a responsible aviator as he helps his archrival Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer) win the day against the unnamed Soviet-sponsored enemy du jour over the Indian Ocean. Accordingly, generic labels “action,” “adventure,” “romance” pop up in reviews and squibs whenever one is needed. 

While the action and adventure revolve around Maverick’s efforts to prove himself against other pilots, there remains some question about the central romance. Ostensibly, of course, its principals are Maverick and Charlie. Its weakness, however, left test audiences uneasy, and critics agree that the two scenes added to amp it up before the film was released did not fix the problem;13 this romance plays as a perfunctory generic requirement, peripheral to Maverick’s chief struggle. What with its “premature resolution” barely halfway through the second act, as Diane Shoos and Diana George point out, and Charlie’s virtual disappearance thereafter, her scenes with Maverick “make up only one-quarter of the total running time.” The “real couple,” and the most intimate, who get the most screen time together at about forty-five minutes, are Maverick and Goose. The scenes after the latter’s death leave no doubt: the bereaved Maverick must be comforted by Goose’s widow Carole, and it is Maverick who takes the dog tags (28). If Maverick and Goose share the frankest and tenderest moments in the movie, however, Mav and Iceman share the hottest sparks. Judith Williamson, for example, notes that the movie functions visually as a romance between the two: “their eyelines are constantly matched as the film cuts between glances from one to the other; tensions are created and connections made through editing” (Deadline 29). As J. Hoberman puts it, “the locker room is more fetishized than the boudoir: the most sustained erotic tension is provided by the love-hate relationship between Maverick and his rival, Iceman” (59).14

Beyond question, in any case, is that Top Gun is patently a film about Navy men. The dozen or so male speaking roles are Navy; of the four women who speak, only Charlie and Carole appear in more than one scene and deliver more than a few lines. The camera spends nearly all of its time on the smooth-skinned, even-featured (and to some extent look-alike) young flyboys who dominate the cast, and for whom, in Michael Wilmington’s words, “the script links sexual potency with their prowess as pilots.”15 Because they fuse eroticism and aggression indistinguishably, and because they are driven throughout to prove their prowess against one another, their instructors, and pilots from the hostile “other side,” erotic energy is at play among them even to the very last frame over which the end credits roll. The film, in other words, is just as much about the generation and management of this energy as it is about anything else, perhaps more so.16

Indeed, when in full-on aggressive mode, men never get very far in their dialogue without erotic color. Thus, for example, cadet Wolfman, trying to locate the enemy en route to the climactic confrontation (1:30:01): “They must be close—I’m gettin’ a hardon.” Or commanding officer Stinger, exasperated by Maverick (14:42): “I’d like to bust your butt.” Or instructor Jester, as he pursues Mav during a combat exercise (31:23): “You’re mine!” (Maverick turns the tables and utters the same at 32:17.) Or the flight director enraged by Maverick’s hijinks (34:52): “I want somebody’s butt, I want it now!” 

Less competitive, more affectionate situations are eroticized too. When Maverick is struggling with Goose’s death, the commander at the school, Viper, is sympathetic but realistic (1:23:56): “I’m not gonna blow sunshine up your ass, Lieutenant.” And early in the movie, after Charlie asks for a word with Maverick, Goose tells his buddy (28:50), “Okay, well, don’t be late again,” and continues, while fussing with Maverick’s lapels, “You look great, honey.” “Thanks, dear,” Maverick rejoins. “See ya in pre-flight.” 

Explicitly homoerotic as these excerpts are, they are unqueered by a “semiotic chain,” as Barry Adam calls it in his sketch of military gender politics, that “binds aggression, masculinity, and self-esteem into a tightly wound mechanism designed to motivate and discipline the male solider” (111). In Top Gun, the semiotic chain structures the pilots’ interactions, not to mention their dialogue, locating them on one side or the other in a matrix of opposing states:17

aggressor/victortarget/vanquished
masculinefeminine
narcissistic inflationnarcissistic annihilation

Pump up self-esteem in Adam’s semiotic chain to get the narcissism of Top Gun; Pauline Kael observes that it’s “as if narcissism is what being a warrior is all about” (119). The whole matrix is concisely laid out in the first scene at the school (16:14–19:05), as the ground rules for the competition that dominates most of Act II are established and all of its principals first meet. On one side, the highest scorers in the simulated battles (“the best of the best,” in Viper’s words) win the Top Gun trophy, and their names immortalized on plaques, they enjoy the admiration of their rivals and later generations; on the other, the losers are summarily unmanned (“The plaque for the alternates is in the ladies’ room,” Iceman wisecracks), which is to say, annihilated (Viper: “There are no points for second place”).

The nondiegetic 80s rock in the movie is an emblem of this world, and at the same time helps to create it. “Highway to the Danger Zone,” “Playing With The Boys,” “Mighty Wings,” and post-disco instrumental technopop during the action sequences, all at more or less the same up tempo, account for about two-thirds of its thirty or so cues; some half dozen of the rest are devoted to the instrumental “Top Gun Anthem,” essentially a strutting march in rock idiom. In contrast to these, the classics from previous generations—“You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling,” “Dock of the Bay,” “Great Balls of Fire”—that predominate in the diegetic musical world are emblems of the Mav-Charlie and Mav-Goose romances. While these songs register as old-fashioned and even corny, state-of-the-art technology is the edgy currency both of the pilots’ world and of the music that underscores it.18

Danger Zone

In fact, for the first four and a half minutes of the movie, a sequence aboard a carrier of takeoffs and landings, technology is front and center. Huge needlenosed planes are attended by featureless androids in helmets, ear and eye protection, busy at their tasks, as the “Anthem” coalesces in a synthesized texture (0:00–2:44); no speech intrudes but for a few indecipherable bursts over a P.A. “Danger Zone” (2:44–4:14) cuts in at the first launch, bringing the first intelligible voices in the production, the nondiegetic lead and backup singers’ (both performed here by Kenny Loggins).19 The only glimpse of human faces in the entire montage—four bareheaded landing signals officers—flashes by in a medium-close shot lasting about a second. The first diegetic dialog enters only over the fade of the cue.

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By the next “Danger Zone” cue  (15:02–16:44), the diegesis has been anchored to its human protagonists. In Stinger’s quarters aboard the carrier, just after he breaks the news to Maverick and Goose, “You two characters are going to Top Gun,” the introductory beat sneaks in, enacting their adrenaline rush—the elevated pulse—in response to the fabled name. The cue carries through the remainder of the scene, through Mav’s motorcycle ride to Fightertown outside San Diego, and into the darkened classroom-as-movie-theater with cadets sprawling one next to another during Jester’s presentation.

Example 1 transcribes and annotates an excerpt from the cue to show how closely signal moments in the diegesis are coordinated with critical musical moments, that is, how closely the musical personas—here, the male singers, guitarist, bassist, keyboardist, drummer of a rock band—identify with the dramatic action.20 The abrupt cut from the Indian Ocean to the Southern California desert, for instance, is kicked off by the drummer and bassist on the second eighth in m. 28. In m. 35, a jet touches down as the lead singer descends through his phrase to land on the tonic. On the downbeat of m. 40, the hole left by the singer is filled by Maverick’s exuberant air punch. Cut to Mav and an ascending jet together on the downbeat of m. 45. The featured musical persona in the band, the lead singer delivers six phrases in three pairs. The first pair is a verse of phrases V1 and V2, marked on the example; the last two pairs are the extended chorus, phrases C1, C2, C3, and C4.

V1The lead singer moves essentially from  to his goal . Instrumental support is light, the tonic E-flat-minor harmony static. With its quick repeated notes and ostinati, the spare texture vibrates with contained energy.V2In a variant of V1, the singer touches , extending his range upwards, then filling in his descent to , “coming in for a landing.”C1The throttle (literally!) is opened wide; loud, with the backup singer, the effect is that of a full band uncorked. The harmonic vocabulary increases—D-flat major and E-flat minor—and a harmonic rhythm emerges; now from , the lead singer comes in for another landing. C2This is a variant of C1 with a pickup and a tail.C3A harmonic progression takes shape—C-flat major to A-flat minor (to D-flat major to E-flat minor, concluded in the following phrase)—and the lead singer struggles to free himself from his gravitational bond to the tonic degree. His willful leap up to the dominant in the m. 46 doesn’t have quite enough energy to stay airborne, but in the next phrase,C4: Success! The lead singer, in other words, is taking off, much like the jet in the scene, and Maverick’s excitement as well. At the end of the phrase, on the climactic cry “the Danger Zone,” he is soaring into the upper reaches of his range, cruising on the dominant at an altitude of a perfect fifth—and thus he recedes into the distance beyond the acoustic horizon. Below, the excitement of the climax reverberates in the bass ostinato, the static tonic harmony echoing in an instrumental vamp. A musical equivalent of a freeze frame, the ostinato/vamp extends the climax indefinitely.

Sequences such as this bring David Denby’s description of the movie to mind: “a tumescent hymn to the sexiness of flying” (102). Elaborating the phallic basis for the symbolism of flying, Freud proposed in 1915–16 that “the remarkable characteristic of the male organ which enables it to rise up in defiance of the laws of gravity, one of the phenomena of erection, leads to its being represented symbolically by balloons, flying-machines and most recently by Zeppelin airships. [Had Freud been writing twenty years ago, he could have included F-14s and MiGs.] But dreams can symbolize erection in another, far more expressive manner. They can treat the sexual organ as the essence of the dreamer’s whole person and make him himself fly.… Dreams of flying, so familiar and often so delightful, have to be interpreted as dreams of general sexual excitement, as erection-dreams” (155). For the male dreamer, that is, images of flying are prompted by the “anti-gravity” responses of his sexually aroused body. In “Danger Zone,” the male lead singer—disembodied, so that his voice becomes for us his body—ultimately defies the gravity of the tonic degree (and the limitations of his own range) to “fly” on that sustained dominant. To borrow Wolfman’s language at 16:39, which he anticipates, the lead singer seems to be saying, in musical terms, “This gives me a hardon.” Arousal, of course, carries a powerful narcissistic charge here. Precisely on the lead singer’s climactic downbeat in m. 51, a missile blows up a jet on a monitor in the classroom. It is clear on which side of the encounter the singer imagines himself. Triumph, if this music is any indication, opens into a fantasy of perpetual narcissistic pleasure, an endless static condition of ego inflation, likewise associated—recall Freud’s balloons and Zeppelins—with flying. 

Generic features of the music also help to create the narcissistic moment, and to eroticize the high technology at the pilots’ command as well. Disembodied as the musical personas are, as members of a mid-80s hard rock band they are all distinctly male, like the diegetic characters. Their music accordingly calls to mind, in concert performances, group displays of male eroticism before huge crowds who revel in the narcissistic spectacle they help to create. Mark Simpson’s description of heavy metal applies as well to “Danger Zone”: “The music itself, with its simple four-bar phrases and its crude repetitive chords, effects a solid, monumental phallicism, the most important feature of which is its volume, i.e. its size and power.” At the heart of the erotic spectacle works the technological magic that amplifies the human acoustics into superhuman proportions. Onscreen, the same high-tech magic extends the pilots’ human bodies into the flatwinged behemoths that thrust and soar, adored by the camera, “lock” onto others, and fire their missiles.21 Simpson argues further that the musical performance images engage a system of codes that allow boys and young men to “worship the phallus in a fashion that preserves its and their own desired/prized virility” (193).  

Figure 3: Click to Enlarge

They can desire other males, that is—for the rock stars Simpson has in mind, substitute also the fetishized, larger-than-life Navy pilots onscreen, or the actors who play them—eagerly submit to their overpowering performances, and still escape queerness.22 These codes unqueer not only the music here, but also the scenes it underscores in general, and in particular, moments such as the guitarist’s frisson (16:30) over the vamp in reaction to the first view of Iceman’s face, an extreme closeup. And they unqueer both Wolfman’s arousal and the response of his buddy/driver Hollywood, gazing up languidly at him in the darkened room: “Don’t tease me” (16:43). The cue cuts out directly afterward when the blinds are opened and daylight intrudes to transform the shared erotic moment.

Mav and Ice

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More broadly, Simpson’s codes unqueer the Maverick-Iceman romance, shaped as it is by fully four nondiegetic rock numbers over the course of the film, three of which feature male singers. A third “Danger Zone” cue  (1:03:51–1:05:15) underscores a training exercise, “Hop 31.” Here, the song actually carries the pilots into the air. The lead singer takes off briskly, eliding C2 and C3 from Example 1 to combine C1 and C4 into a chorus.23 Two beats before the climax of the cue, the camera cuts to Iceman. Precisely on the climactic downbeat (“DANGer Zone!”), he throws a cool sidelong leer at Maverick. Precisely on the next downbeat falls the cut to Maverick himself, grinning back. Banter follows over the instrumental vamp, eyelines matched; and eight measures later, the guitarist’s frisson—in the first pass it introduced Iceman, marking the beginning of their romance—marks the end of the exchange: Ice breaks the contact, dismissing Maverick. (I’ll return below to this cue, which actually begins during the previous scene.)

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The other 80s rock number in the movie before the end credits fronted by a male singer—also Loggins—“Playin’ with the Boys”  (40:51–42:28), underscores a volleyball game pitting Mav and Goose against Ice and Slider. Although (or because?) Charlie has made a point of asking Maverick to be on time to dinner at her place, the boys take priority, and he stays to compete until he is hours late. The game suspends the advance of the diegesis for a minute and a half; as something of a stand-alone montage, this sequence is essentially a discrete dance number interpolated into the action.24 It is also among those scenes that fetishize male flesh most blatantly. All players but Goose are shirtless (as the married dad, Goose is past desirability, thus also his funny shorts—and for that matter, his mustache, the only one on a cadet, and of course, his name); shot close from below against the blue sky, the young men loom Olympian. Note that visual continuity takes a back seat to fetishization: despite the sweat and all the dives into the sand, barely a grain besmirches the glistening figures. Almost all the spectators are male.

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.

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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

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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. 

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

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.”

timingsettingaction42:38–44:02en route to and at Charlie’s dinner[diegetic “Dock of the Bay” intervenes] 47:12–48:14 departing Charlie’s; elevatorsteamy encounter, interrupted49:10–49:43(elevator). . . and resumed52:04–56:22tax trailer; chase; bedroomCharlie reproves Mav; confesses; sex
Figure 4. “Take My Breath Away”: the four cues.

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.)

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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 fourthat 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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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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—

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.

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.

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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

With and without the boys

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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

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.

timingsettingaction1:00:44–1:01:26locker room; Mav’s quarters“flying against Dad’s ghost”[two intervening nondiegetic cues]1:07:36–1:09:21 oceanGoose’s death1:10:22–1:14:18washroom;Viper consoles Mav;en route to Top Gun;Charlie consoles Mav;living quarters;Mav goes through Goose’s effects;TV room Carole consoles Mav[segue into active, agitated music, to 1:16:54]1:17:51–1:21:20airport loungeMav 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.

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.

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.” 

*                      *                      *

“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 narcissisticsolidity 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.

Works Cited

“Afterburn: Release and Impact.” Top Gun.Special Collectors Edition.DVD. Paramount, 2004. Disc 2.

Adam, Barry. “Anatomy of a Panic: State Voyeurism, Gender Politics, and the Cult of Americanism.” Gays and Lesbians in the Military. Ed. Wilbur J. Scott and Sandra Carson Stanley. New York: Aldine De Gruyter, 1994. 103–118.

Bricker, Rebecca. “Take One.” People May 12, 1986: 37.

Buckley, Michael. “Top Gun.” Rev. of Top Gun. Films in Review 37 (1986): 422.

Cockburn, Alexander. “The Selling of the Pentagon?” American Film June 1986: 28+.

Conlon, James. “Making Love, Not War.” Journal of Popular Film and Television 18.1 (Spring 1990): 18–27. 

DeCurtis, Anthony. “‘Top Gun’ A Victory For The Marketing Men.” Rolling Stone 25 Sep. 1986: 21. 

Delaney, Tom. “Sunglasses Tie-Ins Stretch B&L Budget.” Adweek Aug. 10, 1987. LexisNexis Academic. Smith College Libraries, Northampton, MA. July 5, 2005.

Denby, David. “Pop Gun.” Rev. of Top Gun. New York May 19, 1986: 102+.

Dolce, Joe. “‘Top Gun’ triggers a new jet set as the air force look blasts off.”Advertising Age 1 (Sep. 1986): 22. LexisNexis Academic. Smith College Libraries, Northampton, MA. July 5, 2005.

Edelman, Rob. “Top Gun.” Rev. of Top Gun. Cinéaste 15.1 (1986): 41–42.

Field, Syd. Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting. Expanded ed. New York: Dell, 1994.

Film Review Annual 1987. Ed. Jerome S. Ozer. Englewood, NJ: Ozer, 1987.

Floyd, Nigel. “Top Gun.” Rev. of Top GunMonthly Film Bulletin 53 (1986): 319–20.

Freud, Sigmund. Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis. 1915–16. Ed. James Strachey. Vol. 15. London: Hogarth, 1961.

Gelmis, Joseph. Rev. of Top Gun. Newsday May 16, 1986, Pt. III: 3. Rpt. in Film Review Annual 1987.1449–50.

Halloran, Richard. “Guardians of the Screen Image.” New York Times Aug. 18, 1986, late city final ed.: A12.

Hoberman, J. “Phallus in Wonderland.” Rev. of Top Gun. Village Voice May 27, 1986: 59+.

Hochschwender, Woody. “Top Looks.” New York Times Sep. 11, 1988, late city final ed., sec. 1: 61.

Kael, Pauline. “Brutes.” Revs. of Mona Lisa, dir. Neil Jordan, and Top Gun. New Yorker June 16, 1986: 114–19.

Kühn, Detlef. Rev. of Top Gun. EPD Film 3.9 (Sep. 1986): 36. 

Lamar, Jacob V., Jr. “The Pentagon Goes Hollywood.” Time Nov. 24, 1986: 30.

Liddy, G. Gordon. Guest. Hardball With Chris Matthews. MSNBC. May 8, 2003.

Lindsey, Robert. “‘Top Gun’: Ingenious Dogfights.” New York Times May 27, 1986, late city final ed.: C15.

O’Brien, Harvey. “Fly Me to the Danger Zone: Sublimating Song and Dance in the 1980s: Top GunHighlander, And Good Morning, Vietnam.” Film Musicals from the Classical Era to Postmodern Cinema: International Film Studies Conference . . . Sep. 19/20, 2003. Sep. 18, 2003. University College Cork. July 5, 2005 <http://www.ucc.ie/italian/filmstudies/musicalsconference.html>.

—. “Top Gun.” E-mail to the author. June 29, 2005.

Parker, Kathleen. “It’s a Byrd, It’s an S-3B Viking . . . It’s the Taco Bell Dog!” Townhall.com: Conservative News and Information. May 12, 2003. Townhall.com. July 5, 2005 <http://www.townhall.com/columnists/kathleenparker/kp20030512.shtml>.

Reed, Rex. Rev. of Top Gun. New York Post 16 May 16, 1986: 25. Rpt. in Film Review Annual 1987.1449.

Robb, David L. Operation Hollywood: How the Pentagon Shapes and Censors the Movies. Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2004.

Rollins, Karina, Mona Charen, Jessica Gavora, Charlotte Hays, Kate O’Beirne, Naomi Schaefer, Erica Walter. “The Kind of Men Society Needs—and Women Want (The State of Modern Manhood—What Women Think).” The American Enterprise Sep.2003: 28–31.

Salamon, Julie. Rev. of Top Gun. Wall Street Journal May 22, 1986: 29.

Schickel, Richard. “MTV Goes to War.” Rev. of Top Gun. Time May 19, 1986: 105.

Schiffren, Lisa. “Hey, Flyboy.” Wall Street Journal May 9, 2003: W15. 

Shoos, Diane and Diana George. “Top Gun and Postmodern Mass Culture Aesthetics.” Post Script 9.3 (summer 1990): 21–35.

Simpson, Mark. Male ImpersonatorsMen performing Masculinity. New York: Routledge, 1994.

Sleep With Me. Dir. Rory Kelly. United Artists, 1994.

Sprinker, Michael. “Top Gun.” Rev. of Top Gun. Magill’s Cinema Annual 1987. Ed. Frank. N. Magill. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Salem, 1987. 437–41.

Top Gun. Dir. Tony Scott. 1986. DVD. Paramount, 2004. Disc 1.

Top Gun: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. Columbia CK 40323, 1986.

United States Army. Office of the Chief of Public Affairs. “Making Movies Guide.” July 5, 2005 <http://www4.army.mil/OCPA/community/makingmovies/guide.pdfor <—/guide.html>.

VerSteeg, Jac Wilder. “Family Values? Nah. ‘Stud Muffin.’” Palm Beach Post May 20, 2003, final edition: 14A. LexisNexis Academic. Smith College Libraries, Northampton, MA. July 5, 2005.

Vesey, Tom. “Naval Academy Cruises to Popular Heights; ‘Top Gun,’ ‘Red October’ and Patriotism Boost Military Schools.” Washington Post Jan. 19, 1987, final ed.: B1+.

Vistica, Gregory L. Fall From Glory: The Men Who Sank the U.S. Navy. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995. 

Williamson, Judith. Deadline at Dawn: Film Criticism 1980–1990. London: Marion Boyars, 1993.

—. Rev. of Top Gun. New Statesman Oct. 10, 1986: 25. Rpt. in Film Review Annual 1987.1447.Wilmington, Michael. “High-tech Flyboys in ‘Top Gun.’” Rev. of Top Gun.Los Angeles Times May 16, 1986, calendar: 1. Rpt. in Film Review Annual 1987.1445–46.

  1. A version of this essay was presented at Feminist Theory and Music, University of California at Riverside, June 18, 1995. References to moments in the film are given as necessary in parentheses.I’m very grateful for the ready and resourceful assistance of Pamela Skinner, reference librarian at Smith College; Lt. Commander Aron Buckles of the United States Navy graciously fielded my questions about protocols for launch and landing. At AP/Wide World Photos, Yvette Reyes made the process of obtaining licensing permission easy and pleasant. Smith College provided generous help with funding.
  2. A screenplay “is a story told with pictures” (3, 8, 31); “film is a visual medium” (8, 27) that “deals in pictures, images” (8).
  3. Thus Lisa Schiffren, onetime speechwriter for Dan Quayle: “After a long day of hauling the kids to playdates and ballet, I turned on the news. And there was the president, landing on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, stepping out of a fighter jet in that amazing uniform, looking—how to put it?—really hot. Also, presidential, of course. Not to mention credible as a commander in chief. But mostly ‘hot’ as in virile, sexy and powerful.”Kathleen Parker celebrated a “quarterback’s swagger,” “a stud muffin no matter what his other flaws, arriving on a testosterone bullet to the cheers of 5,000 sailors.” It was left to the men openly to size up the leader of their pack. Wrote Jac Wilder VerSteeg, “Rush Limbaugh, I am told, commented approvingly on the presidential package.” And G. Gordon Liddy, on MSNBC’s Hardball With Chris Matthews, gave a running commentary: “He’s in his flight suit, he’s striding across the deck, and he’s wearing his parachute harness {which} makes the best of his manly characteristic.… Run that stuff again of him walking across there with the parachute. He has just won every woman’s vote in the United States of America. You know, all those women who say size doesn’t count—they’re all liars. Check that out.” Rove’s flacks at the American Enterprise Institute invoked the stunt as an emblem three months later in an issue of their magazine explicitly glorifying Republican virility and dismissing male Democrats as laughable impostors: “You really saw it on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln. Testosterone and camaraderie.” In contradistinction, Bill Clinton “couldn’t credibly wear jogging shorts” (Rollins 30).
  4. In the same vein, Judith Williamson observes, “Top Gun isn’t just like an ad for the US forces. It is one” (1447); according to Pauline Kael, “The movie is a shiny homoerotic commercial” and “a recruiting poster that isn’t concerned with recruiting but with being a poster” (119); and Julie Salamon refers to Top Gun as “this recruiting-ad of a movie.”
  5. Accounts differ of the Navy’s charges to the production. According to Halloran, “an F-14 flight made just for the film cost $7,600 an hour, and the flight of an A-6 attack bomber $8,600. Of the $1.1 million Paramount paid the Navy for ‘Top Gun,’ $886,000 was for flight time of five types of aircraft.” Lamar has Paramount paying $1.8 million to the Navy; Lindsey, quoting director Tony Scott, reports that the Navy charged the filmmakers only for the F-14s’ fuel.
  6. Robb reports that the female lead in the original script was “an enlisted woman in the navy. The navy, however, forbids fraternization between officers and enlisted personnel,” so the character was changed to a civilian (94).
  7. See Robb (182), Vistica (231), Halloran, and Vesey. The Army’s own “Making Movies Guide” stipulates that the Pentagon will cooperate on a production only if it will “benefit the Department of Defense or otherwise be in the national interest based on the following factors: 1. The production must help increase public understanding of the Armed Forces and the Department of Defense. 2. The production should help Armed Forces’ recruiting and retention programs. 3. The production must be authentic in its portrayal of persons, places, actual military operations or historical events.” (Three more factors follow.) In actual practice, Factors 1 and 3 are highly flexible, entirely subordinate to the all-important Factor 2. Informed public understanding and authentic portrayals of the military, of course, often directly undermine efforts to recruit and retain. Whenever these factors are at odds in scripts submitted for approval, as Robb shows in his examination of Pentagon policy over the last fifty years, recruitment and retention trump authenticity invariably. As a non-negotiable condition for Pentagon assistance, filmmakers must accept any changes to the script by the DOD, which has final say. Indeed, the Pentagon goes so far as to actively block projects that it disapproves.
  8. “With Tom Cruise as its superhunk model, ‘Top Gun’ air force fashion is blasting off.… It’s catching on so quickly that one of the top military apparel manufacturers, Avirex, New York, {which supplied the costumes for the production,} is supplementing its decade-old mail order and wholesale businesses with a retail store, The Cockpit, in New York’s SoHo this October” (Dolce). Sales of Ray-Ban’s Aviators increased by forty percent, representing fully half of Bausch and Lomb’s business in sunglasses (Delaney). Children’s fashion was not immune; as late as fall 1988, over two years after the movie came out, kids were wearing bomber jackets “based on the ‘‘Top Gun’ adult looks” of the previous autumn (Hochschwender).
  9. Gelmis agrees: “The movie is a series of music videos to which a clichéd romance and a gung-ho rivalry between competing aces in the Top Gun class have been appended” (1450).
  10. The four are “Take My Breath Away,” with Berlin, “Highway to the Danger Zone,” featuring Kenny Loggins, the “Top Gun Anthem,” and “Heaven in Your Eyes,” with Loverboy. For a short history of the album’s marketing, see DeCurtis.
  11. While its “slick visuals” are “pure 80s,” Floyd remarks, the “atavistic gung-ho heroism and Cold War politics” of the film—“like the slicked-back hair styles—hark back to the 50s” (319–20).
  12. Founded in 1969, the school was moved to Fallon, Nevada in 1996.
  13. In the first, 48:00–49:44, Maverick and Charlie exchange leers in an elevator; in the second, 53:53–55:00, silhouetted against a blue background in a bedroom, they exchange fluids. Because McGillis had cut and darkened her hair for Made in Heaven, and Cruise, already at work on The Color of Money, also had a different cut, their hairstyles are disguised here. In the elevator, hers is mostly concealed by the oddly incongruous cap, his is slicked down (and the close shots that dominate the scene cut off the top of his head); in the bedroom, all of their features are obscured altogether (Bricker; “Afterburn”). Also in the elevator, we see the slouch McGillis affected to make Cruise look taller than she. In fact, he’s inches shorter, and she developed back problems throughout work on Top Gun from the constant strain of collapsing herself next to him.
  14. To paraphrase Shoos and George, their romance is established at first sight, Maverick and Iceman exchanging glances “in a duplication of the cinematic codes associated with the first moments of male/female attraction” (28).
  15. See also Conlon (20): “The two modes of engagement aren’t really distinct; warring is as erotic as loving is combative.”
  16. Eight years after the movie was released, the homoerotic topic in Top Gun provided the basis for arguably the most celebrated moment in Rory Kelly’s Sleep With Me, the rant by minor character Sid (Quentin Tarantino)to the effect that Top Gun is “a story about a man’s struggle with his own homosexuality.
  17. Reports Alexander Cockburn from an interview with Jaws, Jambo, and Flex, three 29-year-old Top Gun pilots: “I asked them what it took to be Top Gun instructors. ‘Extremely large penises,’ said Flex” (32). Michael Sprinker points out that “the film consistently and intentionally images human relationships in the language of war and combat” (439).“Top Gun doesn’t posit sex as aggression,” Hoberman observes, “it reformulates aggression as sex” (59). Rob Edelman notes that “Top Gun divides the world into winners and losers, good guys and bad guys, heroes and villains” (41).
  18. Sprinker understands the “division of labor” in the score between “the evocation of nostalgia on the ground” and “affectless New Wave beats backing up action in the air” as keying a “split in the lives of the pilots between what they are out of uniform and what they become once they don flight suits” (440).
  19. In my reading, Loggins is voicing the nondiegetic roles of the lead and backup singers here, just as Cruise plays the diegetic role of Maverick, say, or McGillis that of Charlie.
  20. While some of these “instrumental” sounds and those identified below may very well have been synthesized, they read as “traditionally” produced by people playing familiar instruments.
  21. “This bogey’s all over me,” snarls Cougar during the first dogfight (6:55); during the last, Iceman cries, “I’m hit, I’m hit!” (96:52); their first person refers to their planes.
  22. Simpson continues: “The ground-shaking, pummeling, gut-wrenching sound of heavy metal is the sound of boys enjoying the barely sublimated fantasy of being on the receiving end of the stupendously virile organ they worship” (193). Not all the volume in the movie is music, but just the same, reviewers point out the extraordinary volume of the sound track. For Michael Buckley, “the decibel level is shattering. Top Gun ranks as the noisiest picture of the year.” Reed warns moviegoers to “bring earplugs“ in order to “survive the noise.”
  23. In this “Danger Zone” cue, “takeoff” is perhaps more precipitous than in Example 1: the second phrase of the verse is a straight reprise, not a variant, of the first.
  24. Some three dozen serves, returns, or other gestures mark beats. The effect is often comic, not to say cheesy. At “the clock keeps ticking, when someone’s on your mind,” for instance, Goose, Slider, and Maverick keep musical time, winding up and serving in succession on the downbeat of m. 18, the strong third beat, and the downbeat of 19. Ice returns to mark the downbeat of 20. The sequence is perhaps the most overt incarnation of a generic principle that Harvey O’Brien tracks through the movie. He shows that Top Gun, like some other films of the 80s, assimilates conventions of the classic musical: the song and dance numbers of the latter, manifestations of emotional “excess,” are “sublimated” in the former into choreographed set pieces (“Fly Me”). He argues moreover that “the ‘gay’ subtext” in Top Gun is “further coding of emotional excess” (“Top Gun”).
  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.
  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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