308. The arousing (III)
Top Gun (1986) was made by Tony Scott, brother to Ridley Scott, and so represents a British director’s take on America; however, this is not what is most notable about Top Gun, a film I saw for the first time yesterday. Tony Scott started his career with his brother’s advertising firm; indeed, the older brother started in advertising and then spring-boarded into film, while the younger brother stayed, in actuality and in spirit, in advertisement. Really, Top Gun could have ended with Tom Cruise handed a Coca-Cola to crack open on the steps to the cockpit: “That’s the real taste of Top Gun!” Fade to black, no credits; the film was a very long advert.
Top Gun is an advert for America at her peak: technological superiority, the pursuit of excellence, commies kicked in the ass, individualism defended (Cruise plays “Maverick”, the maverick), attractive-though-educated women—and, finally, a demographic balance of nine European Americans to one black American. “It’s morning in America.” Hence the film appealed to what was the alt-right. It is perhaps unrealistic to have even the black American at Top Gun school, and the romantic lead, though smoking hot, is also a PhD in astrophysics—we can tell she is a smart one, she wears glasses. So ideology is at play even here, but compared to contemporary America Top Gun appears as reactionary paradise; it creates a cinematographic parallax view when alternated with contemporary films in its class.
Top Gun is about feels; everything else—plot (very thin), character development (minimal), special effects (uninspired)—is weak in the film. Even the dogfights, superficially central to Top Gun, are unimportant and awkward. The human mind struggles to get a handle on jet combat; it makes no sense to us, so there is little drama. To film an F-14 in the sky, with no backdrop, bores—without a backdrop we have no sense as to its speed. Modern air-to-air combat happens at a distance; so Top Gun has to artificially close the gap between the jets.
The mind struggles to find drama in the way the jets move and fight; we cannot even identify with the characters, who are entirely masked. The face is essential to create drama—unlike the old Greek masks, the pilot mask wears no expression. Luckily, their names are written on their helmets—unlike the commie jet pilots, who are nameless black-clad parasites. Science-fiction films maintain space drama by the conceit that space battles will be like 18th-century naval battles; and the human mind is satisfied with that. The airborne antics in Top Gun are, by contrast, without drama.
So why do people like this film? Again, sensation. On the ground, Top Gun is shrouded in a permanent red heat haze or purple twilight. Cruise pummels the highway, enveloped in purple musky twilight…take my breath away…a-way…This is what people watch Top Gun for; not just the romance, though there is that, but for that permanent twilight feel—a very ‘80s feel, again associated with the alt-right—that evokes mirrors and cocaine and synthesisers. The mood: crepuscular, permanently crepuscular. The aircraft finally come alive at the airbase, when the pilots walk towards the cockpits in their jumpsuits and a Tomcat rises through the heat haze and red dust. As with Cruise racing the jet on his motorbike, the aircraft is only exciting to watch in relation to something we can grasp.
In short, you could make a very fine film that consisted, for the most part, of Tom Cruise on a motorbike in a purple twilight haze accompanied by a suitable synth track; he could stop occasionally to exchange taught words—slick with humid perspiration—with his lover, or to banter with his wingman; perhaps some dickwad officer could bawl him out, then he could walk to his jet through air layered into heat contours. Forget the dogfights. It could run to 110 minutes with little dialogue or plot. I swear, millions would pay for this film—indeed, perhaps they already have.