It is quite easy now to understand where Tarantino got his theory regarding the homoerotic subtext of Top Gun especially with all the speculation over the last few years regarding the sexuality of it's star Tom Cruise. My personal experience with Top Gun goes back to the very end of 1985 when Paramount had wrapped principal photography on the film and was in the process of putting together what became the work print for the film that would eventually be released by Paramount in 1986 to fantastic boxoffice around the world. This was also the beginning of Tom Cruise as a bonafide mega star after his success with Risky Business prior to this film.
During this time I was seeing a lot of film director Curtis Harrington whose own career had many false jump starts with stylish films like Games and Whats the matter with Helen bringing him critical attention but with poor results at the boxoffice he just could not get a foothold into the mainstream of movie making as a Hollywood player, a role, I always felt he more than deserved. He eventually became a director of television movies and episodic sitcoms like Dynasty and then finally returning to the avant garde towards the end of his life allowing him a chance to come full circle with his most personal film as well as an homage to Edgar Allan Poe....his own version of Usher.
At the time Paramount was toying with the idea of using Curtis for a project based on one of his scripts and because of this he was invited to see a rough cut of their latest blockbuster Top Gun which was very funny because this was just the type of film Curtis detested since it represented the zenith of the Reagan white house as well as being hopelessly mainstream in ways that always drove Curtis around the bend. At first he did not want to even bother but when I heard about it there was no way I was going to pass up a chance to see this film for myself. I had heard lots of rumors that this was indeed a career defining moment for Cruise, who was by then a heartthrob with both sexes and yet this was the 80's so you have to remember that everything and everyone was still very closeted in terms of subtexts gay or otherwise if you recall the MTV videos of the period especially Olivia Newton John's Physical..
As I remember the circumstances that evening Curtis and I arrived on the Paramount lot only to be directed by carefully placed staff members to a screening room where perhaps 20 or so people related to Tony Scott or the project had gathered to see the film and absolutely no press. My connection with Films and Filming magazine was kept secret as I would have not been allowed if any of the staff had found out I was a member of the Foreign Press. The film we watched still did not have Kelly McGillis in it, so the result was absolutely stunning in just how gay this film appeared as one scene after another kept paring Ice and Maverick nose to nose, while shirtless and wet from stream rooms and volley ball courts, awash with lustful desire, this was the kind of male bonding you could only find in a Tom of Finland drawning as a rule, and those were the kind of offkilter script choices keeping Curtis and I giggling to the point of laughter, because we could not let on in a screening room of this size, just how much fun we were having at Paramount's expense.. I can still hear that unmistakable voice of Curtis whispering rather loudly to me throughout the screening...'David this is un-fucking believable" I mean what are they thinking..you know Nancy Reagan is going to get off big time on this one and so more to the point will Ronnie. There was a scene in the classroom where Val Kilmer actually tells a teammate that all this fighter pilot talk was giving him a hard on....it was just relentless in hammering home this homoerotic longing among this attractive male cast all at the top of their game in the looks dept. What was equally amazing, now that I think about it, was the simple fact that we were the only two out of the 20 invited guests that were noticing this unmistakable sidebar to the saga of Maverick and Goose, in point of fact without the addition of the love interest for Cruise of the flight instructor( which I might add would have made more sense if it had been played by a man) after all in 1985 how many women were teaching that particular craft in a Naval academy in the first place. However I am sure that the powers that were in place that year at Paramount knew exactly what was going on in this film and oddly enough the same kind of homoerotic quality came out years later in Scott's other film White Squall. The film was brought back from what I was told later and then love interest was created in a more dynamic way so that by the final fade out Maverick realized he needed her as much as she came to need him or this couple finally did get that loving feeling. The scene in the bar with all these alpha males crooning 80's pop tunes was beyond camp even for 1986.
The film was time coded in places and some music was still to be added...it was clear that Tom Cruise had that special star quality and it remains to this day if you caught his tour de force in this years Rock of Ages this is a talented guy make no mistake. However the jury is still out on whether or not Cruise will become the Rock Hudson of the 21st Century or weather the storm that has been his career during the last five years and remain what he has always been a major international superstar.
Now every time I chance upon a clip from Top Gun or hear any of the soundtrack my mind always returns to that evening so long ago now where I sat in a small screening room at Paramount with my pal Curtis laughing our asses off at the sight of Tom Cruise shirtless or smoothly packed into those tight white Calvin Klines of his while shaking his bubble butt and flirting endlessly for all those men out there in the dark. I am told that the only way to truly enjoy this film in all its glory is to see it in a crowded venue with an audience because the effect is certainly not what Tony Scott would have expected I mean even the death of Maverick's best friend the beloved Goose is sidetracked by the thunder buns of our Tom being objectified in the very next shot .... and.yes.. Tom that night so long ago over at Paramount you really did take my breath away.....