' ' Cinema Romantico: Shout-Out to the Extra: Top Gun Version

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Shout-Out to the Extra: Top Gun Version

America First is the foremost policy slogan of the current President of the United States. And it is an interesting phrase. America First, as in “If you’re not first, you’re last,” which was the philosophy espoused by Reece Bobby (Gary Cole) to his son Ricky (Will Ferrell), NASCAR driver extraordinaire, in “Talladega Nights”, one of the finest film lines of the new century, so exact in its absurdness that NBA superstar Kevin Durant literally, un-ironically quoted in a written profile. And it seemed that much more prescient when Durant, not long after quoting it, ditched the Oklahoma City Thunder for superpower Golden State to get a ring because because, well, it’s all about winning, whether it’s the basketball court or, as we were reminded the other night, the battlefields of Afghanistan.

It’s a thin line between politics and sports. Why else would there have been an over/under on the Clinton/Trump debates or bars offering drink specials during the Comey Hearing? Partisan entrenchment is just like picking a team, throwing on a metaphorical t-shirt with a donkey or an elephant and following the party leader’s plea to MAKE SOME NOISE. “Scoreboard!” supersedes policy. Why else would President Trump refer more to the specifics of his electoral victory than the specifics of, say, his healthcare bill? This inherent insistence on filtering politics through a sports prism, however, often goes beyond party and to country. In the go-go 80s, for instance, when America was in the midst of a war served cold it was Us vs. Them, Red, White & Blue vs. Red.

This geopolitical competition was part and parcel to “Top Gun” (1986), the preeminent American movie of the 1980s. The infamous (or was it just famous?) volleyball scene was not superfluous; this was a sports movie in which everything boiled down to rivalries, on the volleyball sand, in the air as Navy fighter pilots competed for the Top Gun Trophy. “Remember boys,” says Slider (Rick Rossovich), “there’s no points for second place.” The actual Naval Fighter Weapons School on which the film was based did not have a trophy or a competition, both of which were added to the cinematic version as a means to add urgency, of course, but also to underscore America’s overarching competitive drive. And that comes home in the concluding sequence in which Americans duke it out with Russians over the Indian Ocean, Maverick and Iceman vanish the evil MIGs and our two adversarial aviators meet on the aircraft carrier afterwards and...wait.

What’s that I spy?

Whether the extra was told to do this or was caught up in the moment we will likely never know, but whatever the case may be, it was the right decision. After all, index fingers after sports victories had become all the rage, so much so that some scholars cite Georgetown’s Patrick Ewing holding aloft his index finger after losing in the NCAA Basketball Championship game to Villanova the previous year as the moment “We’re #1” jumped the shark. Not me. I pinpoint that moment as right here, when the deck of an aircraft carrier in the midst of the Cold War became like a gym floor at the end of the NCAA Basketball Championship game. Maverick returned to Miramar to become a Top Gun instructor, as everyone knows, but no doubt in-between he went to Disneyland and in a Rose Garden ceremony gave Reagan a Top Gun bomber jacket.

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