Monday, November 23, 2015

Top Gun: Riskier Business

I'm going to write a 30 year anniversary review of Top Gun a few months early. It was released in 1986 when Reagan's insane pandering to the Military was in full plumage. I think he believed was a fictional organization in a movie that he was acting in and his befuddled mind basically ignored that the director never called cut. I imagine him going home to Nancy every night and asking, "How did I read my lines today?" He was a sick man, later had no memory of flooding Los Angeles streets with Colombian cocaine to fund Osama Bin Laden's mujaheddin rebellion against U.S.S.R, but democracy allows the people to elect sick men. It's good to know all that crack and cocaine profits not only crippled a generation of drug addicts, but also enabled bloody dictatorships in El Salvador and Nicaragua and Guatemala and also funded a terrorist organization. If Reagan were a character in a movie he'd be a villain in a James Bond film....except no one stopped his plan to destroy the world. And this is the President known for the D.A.R.E anti-drug campaign. Laughable, like a parody of a disaster.

Reagan's jingoistic rhetoric is not really at the heart of Top Gun, because the movie is about taking risks. It's a personality study of high-risk activities...and the genius, yes genius, is that the odd coupling of Kelly McGillis and Tom Cruise, is forced into the pigeon-hole theme of high-risk activities. All the sex metaphors are thrown in one's face, "Crashed and burned...aggressive move...went over the top...come from behind....launching missiles...switching to guns..." these are lines from a parody porn movie but in 1986 they were average double entendre nonsense. They all point to sexual combat. Even the term, Wingman, as a reference to a friend who provides support at a bar, originates with Top Gun.

The movie actually has too many tropes to mention...the son living in the shadow of the father, who was lost in mysterious circumstances...and who flew with the lead instructor...etc etc.
Top Gun falls into the category of the worst movie with the best director. Tony Scott had a high water mark in the '80s with Beverly Hills Cop, True Romance (which would've been ruined by writer Q. Tarantino), the excellentand prophetic Enemy of the State, before moving on to direct Denzel Washington (the black Tom Cruise) in 4 respectable action films. But Top Gun's action sequences are superlative. The script reads, "I can't see him, I can't see him." "He's on your tail..." for like 30 minutes...and it's still watchable.
Because showing an erect penis would totally change the film's rating.

Action is the key word with Top Gun...sexual action....airplane action...emotional action. The movie is its best when gloriously worshiping fighter jets and their clan. It's simply military porn and I like it. The intentional vapor release from the jet engines is absolutely ejaculation symbology. Even the famous "I was inverted." line is basically a sex position reference.  However, the chemistry between McGillis and Cruise hangs on a thread of credibility. The character McGillis plays, a civilian adviser/trainer/instructor has zero credibility, but making her civilian takes her out of uniform (a plus) and removes the clumsiness found between Demi Moore and Cruise in A Few Good Men, six years later. But it's implausible, even treasonous, that a woman with no combat flight experience would be advising top gun pilots on 'textbook tactics'. But the viewer would be overthinking this role, because the romantic intrigue and action in this relationship is supposed to be a social statement on sexual combat. Everything about Top Gun is forced into combat analysis: Maverick fighting his own inner demons, Goose fighting Maverick's 'need for speed', Ice Man fighting his own fading youth, Jester fighting his students, Charlie fighting her instinct for combat safety, Viper fighting the secret of how Maverick's father died, The U.S. fighting a war for freedom. Cock against Cunt, the battle as old as time. So, the fight is either visual (air combat) or it is emotionally conveyed with dialogue and body language and songs by Berlin. But the dialogue that is used has such tired connotations "I've fallen for you" "You've Lost that Loving Feeling" "take me to bed" "I'm going to take a shower." "I flew with your father." "This is going to get complicated" that only Cruise rises to the occasion, demonstrating the maturity that would lead to far better films. McGillis is a decoration and she seems to know it; everyone wants to see Maverick get naked but we can't admit it.
This is pure intercourse metaphor as two inverted F-14 fighter jets 'fuck' in mid air. There is a simultaneous orgasm, ejaculation at the end...
...I guarantee Tony Scott said, "After you come out of the barrel roll, both of you discharge the vapor trails at the same time." How obvious!

Tom Cruise, as an actor, is highly professional and he has great camera/movie instincts. He knows what each role requires and seldom lacks personality. Yes, he leaves Scientology leaflets on the craft services buffet table, but that's because he's better than everyone else and he's also the producer who can do what he wants. If I had his teeth and hair I would leave all kinds of crazy propaganda around. He's a proud peacock and a number of scenes of him in either his underwear, a towel, or shirtless in jeans are adequate eye candy...and he is never camera shy or allows Val Kilmer to steal scenes. For instance, why the fuck would Maverick be wearing an insulated bomber jacket on the coast near San Diego? Because it stands out! It's Mav's movie and Cruise owns the role.

It's amazing to me that Cruise returns to the abysmal and redundant and repetitive Mission: Impossible franchise year after year. These movies are like fast food for the eye. If you've seen one then you have definitely seen them all. At least the James Bond franchise can say it turns out dramatically different (if worse) movies from time to time. Yes, the character is the same, but the photography of Spectre, for instance, is cloaked in an impenetrable darkness so that I can not see anything. Every face is some small blob of flesh in a sea of grey. No, the Ukrainian video piracy is not to blame. It's a very dark film. Simply because the title is Spectre doesn't mean the movie has to look like a ghost. I remember when James Bond movies were almost technicolor. I can't find a screenshot of even a single shadow in View To A Kill from 1985, it's all filmed in the daytime or bright artificial light, but Spectre is lit entirely in shadow or at night and sometimes at night and in shadow, like the whole franchise is trying to hide in Batman-esque mist. Top Gun may be puerile but at least you can see what the fuck is happening. And while we're on the topic of James Bond and lack of personality, can I say it's a relief Daniel Craig has decided to retire as the autistic James Bond whose entire personality seems to be reduced to a botoxed version of an emotionless automaton who can fuck anything with garter belt and stockings. His villains have more personality! His cars have more personality! For a character with so much mystique, it's incredible he was allowed to turn his personality scale down to zero for this role four different times.
Angry James Bond

Sad James Bond
Sexually Excited James Bond
Grieving James Bond

Perplexed James Bond
Laughing Hysterically James Bond

Jeffrey L. Kimball is probably more responsible for the alternative lighting choices in Top Gun, it's not too bright and it's not too shadowy...the choices are natural and effortless. The multiple sunrise and sunset shots over the Nevada desert are not manufactured...the message is 'the boys are still out playing after their mother has called them in'. Turn the audio off and Top Gun is a shrine to military might and human engineering, like taking The Right Stuff one step further to remove all subtlety: These Men Kick Ass! shouts this movie. Humility is totally extinguished and what is left is a vacuum of testosterone and jet fuel killing faceless targets over an ocean.

Point Break is probably my guiltiest pleasure and I only watched Top Gun recently because it was in English with Spanish subtitles so I thought it would be educational. If I brag that I watched Top Gun in the theaters along with American Ninja, Rambo Part II and Lone Wolf McQuade, I'm basically admitting that I am an ancient old man, from a generation that predates computers. I met a park ranger who said haughtily, "I was born the year Top Gun was released...I'm just saying." Well, I was the intended audience of Top Gun and it's not as shallow as people think. Actually, it's more shallow as cold war jingoism is merely a smoke screen for softcore porn.

Once I cracked the sexual combat analogy code that is written into every single interaction of this movie it actually became very boring because the writing forces every scenario into this sex theme. But that's the ultimate beauty of Top Gun; it thinks like a good soldier and does what it is told, it never deviates from its mission of military and man celebration. The message is simple: We kill, we fuck, we feel good, we win. If you want something more complicated then go watch Apocalypse Now. Top Gun is not apologetic and we are not going to let morality get in the way of our mission. Top Gun is basically a 90 minute commercial for erectile function.

As America enters a new phase of 'defend the borders, burn the refugees' cold war against a Putin-led criminal organization in Russia and a shadowy gang of brown men in hand loom scarves, a sequel "Top Gun 2" is predictably in the development stages. I wonder if they will mention the obvious impact of Reagan's blindly funding radical terrorists who would later attack N.Y with illicit drug profits hidden from Congress? No, that would be moralizing, and Top Gun is a very good case study in writing and making a movie that has a single purpose and pouring all the resources into fulfilling that purpose. If you do that then you can make a pretty bad movie that is still circulating television 30 years later. Spectre, like most modern movies, won't be circulating 30 months from now.
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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.