San Francisco's annual Fleet Week is over, but I'm still reeling in its aftermath. Every year on the last day of the air show I get together with a few good friends, pack a picnic and some drinks and head to a good vantage point to watch a few fly-boys do what they do best; that is, make a spectacle of their exceptional flying skills. Every day, the show is punctuated by an exemplary performance put on by the U.S. Navy Blue Angels who exhibit nothing but aviation at its extreme finest. It seems like everyone in San Francisco has something to say about the Angels, whether its the oft repeated dour expression of dislike or the rare wide-eyed, glowing expression of praise. Perhaps that's because their presence is impossible to ignore -- it's not every day that one hears what sounds like God taking a seam ripper to the sky. (Thankfully, the Fleet Week air shows did not coincide with the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival this year, much to the delight of all the music lovers who flocked to Golden Gate Park.) I, for one, enjoy their ear-trembling display of non-normalcy. I understand those who argue that the Angels represent a militaristic waste of tax dollars and non-renewable resources, that they're noisy and scary, and that they exist essentially as a weapon, but just look at what they do! There really is nothing quite like them. No matter what is said against them I stand firmly planted on my ground of wondering what the hell possesses people to push themselves to such limits. Whether what they do is deemed right or wrong in your eyes, chances are what they do is something you can't fathom. It is the stuff of dreams and they, the Blue Angels, are like flying rattlesnakes waking you from your sleepy-head, from a world obsessed with headlines, deadlines and the horrid notion of the possibility of bread lines.
After the show my friends and I settled in for some pints and pitchers at a local pub. To my surprise there were more than a few sailors and Naval officers among the bar patrons. Like the Angels, their presence could not be ignored: handsome young men, clean cut in crispy white uniforms, shiny shoes and the hats hats hats all piled up on a ledge, I imagine for the purpose of keeping them tidy while they watched football or played air hockey. There was certainly a hat for every serviceman in the joint: starchy white and rounded sailors caps and wide-brimmed and polished officer's hats adorned in gold ornaments and filigree. Put together with the flamboyant aircraft we'd watched all afternoon, this picture of seamen at play reminded me of a movie, hard. This meeting of the real and the fantasy of the days' dealings was noticed by everyone and so when it was declared, in friendly buzzing slurs, that before the end of the night Top Gun must be seen, the decision was unanimous. I hadn't seen the film in quite some time and the thought of having to see it with such friends as those who, like me, so suddenly cultured a need for speed sent me into a frenzy of excitement.
I had forgotten what a music-driven movie Top Gun is. From the opening theme to slamming right into "Danger Zone" it reeks of "soundtrack movie." (I suggest you use the video above more as a soundtrack to read this post to than as a visual representation of the "Danger Zone;" I suspect one might find it as frustratingly lame as I do that Kenny Loggins is pictured singing the bulk of this high-octane hit while lying in bed, taking pictures of a ceiling fan.) Then there's Berlin's "Take My Breath Away (Love Theme From Top Gun)," which went tall the way to #1 on the Billboard charts and won an Academy Award for best song. I learned from watching the music of Top Gun documentary on the special feature disc that accompanies the newest version of the DVD that both of these hit songs were written by Giorgio Moroder, the man famous for producing Donna Summers' best disco hits as well as albums for Sparks and Debbie Harry. This surprised me because I had always thought that "Danger Zone" was purely a Loggins thing, but no. In fact, the lyrics to the song were penned by aspiring lyricist Tom Whitlock who was in fact Moroders' Ferrari mechanic. Whitlock also wrote the lyrics to "Take My Breath Away." He did not, however, have anything to do with the song "Playing With the Boys" -- a song that is indeed all Loggins.
And it is exactly that song, and the beach volleyball scene it was written for, that pushes Top Gun into the realm of the midnight movie. Clearly the scene was intended for the ladies and the ladies alike. In one of the "making of" docs in the special features, director Tony Scott admits that filming this scene was very much like capturing soft porn: he had all "the boys" get shirtless, slicked them with baby oil and had them strike muscle poses between volleys. And so it was that a big budget Hollywood movie filled with familiar faced-actors would become everything it wasn't meant to be: it became what it really is-- a joke. In watching the extras and behind-the-scenes footage I am amazed at the fact that no CGI was employed to create those entertaining dogfight scenes. The Hollywood people and the Military pilot people really worked their respective kinks out together to create some of the best aerial combat sequences ever seen in movies before computers took over. Maybe this attention to detail concerning these action shots account for the apparent lack of story. Quentin Tarantino, as seen in the 1994 movie Sleep With Me, offers a re-analysis of Top Gun by insisting that the weak story-line has nothing to do with being a crap script but a heroic, bromance of a love story told by not-so-hidden homoerotic subtext that permeates the movie.
I'd never thought of Top Gun in that way before, but I have to admit that it really works. There is truly something of a man to man bromance that ties the whole wreck of a movie together. Nothing is mentioned of it in the extensive six hours of bonus features that essentially flesh out the back story of what it was like for Hollywood producers to explain to exceptionally trained Navy fighter pilots why "Ma and Pa in Oklahoma" want to see the Top Gun class situated on the deck of an aircraft carrier, flanked by F-14s, taught by a blonde, steamed stocking-clad sex-pot who has the hots for a certain Maverick sitting in the front row like a teacher's pet while a giant American flag wags its colors patriotically in the background. (Doesn't she know he's on the edge?) It was satisfying to hear all those pilots finally have it out about how preposterous it was to be pushed to the limits of Blockbuster moviemaking when they've been trained to withstand seven Gs and countless hours spent sweating through aeronautical science manuals in actual classrooms.
And did you know that of all the actors who played Top Gun pilots in the film, Val Kilmer was the only one who refused to fly along with one of those real fighter pilots in an F-14? A chance like that comes along only once in a lifetime! Tom Cruise went up, though he became desperately ill, so much so that he apparently ran out of receptacles in which he could vomit. I cannot count myself a fan of the Cruise, but that is a point in his favor in my book. Who knows, maybe Val thought something of his "Iceman" character would be destroyed by actually flying like "Iceman" would. I'd like to grant him that artistic excuse, but I can't, not after what I've seen and learned from the Blue Angels and the lucky ladies and gentlemen of the media who have been honored enough to have been invited to fly with them. I've seen countless clips of this sort of footage and every single reporter and journalist filmed while flying with the Blue Angels, except one, has succumbed to G-LOC (not a hip-hop collaboration of G-Unit and Tone-Loc, but an acronym for G-force induced Loss Of Consciousness, or black out), Gray Out (loss of color vision, a pre-curser to G-LOC) and possible Red Out (experiencing extreme negative g forces resulting in the bursting of blood vessels in the eyes.) If these brave men and women can do it, and all the other actors cast as Top Gun pilots in a movie decidedly titled Top Gun can do it, then why the crap didn't Val? What bothers me more is that in one interview he claims that the only people more full of themselves after actors and rock stars are the real Top Gun pilots who, he explains, claimed at the time of the movies' production that he, Val Kilmer, resembled them the most because he, "had the best hair." Maybe he's a wuss after all.
Anyway, I'll have to wait until next year for my Blue Angels to come back to town. Until then I'll spin Thin Lizzy's "The Boys are Back in Town" in anticipation and try to find a movie to properly replace what I thought Top Gun would satisfy. Don't get me wrong, it's still an entertaining movie, but nothing I can really get behind if you know what I mean. It's a laugh-riot, a drinking game in the making that you'll think of every time you hear one of the soundtrack hit singles sneak up on you while browsing though the freezer section. Maybe Team America World Police will suffice as a rousing replacement. Because when it comes to admiring the real mavericks of America, as Joe Six-pack knows -- the real "mavericks who aren't afraid of getting all mavericky" up in this, to quote Tina Fey, they are the ones who defy all logic by being all that and more than they can be. And one doesn't need to become a veteran to know it, dream it and be it. Please make the effort to do what you have to do so that you can vote as your conscience dictates in this years' election. And play the "maverick" drinking game while you still can!