Sunday, April 26, 2015

Birthday Take: Giorgio Moroder in "Top Gun" (1986)

Tom Cruise in Top Gun
Welcome to The Birthday Take, a column dedicated to celebrating Oscar nominees and winners' birthdays by paying tribute to the work that got them noticed. This isn't meant to be an exhaustive retrospective, but more of a highlight of one nominated work that makes them noteworthy. The column will run whenever there is a birthday and will hopefully give a dense exploration of the finest performances and techniques applied to film. So please join me as we blow out the candles and dig into the delicious substance.

The Facts

Recipient: Giorgio Moroder
Born: April 26, 1940 (81 years old)
Nomination: Best Original Song - Top Gun (won) with "Take My Breath Away"

The Take

It seems interesting that in recent years, Giorgio Moroder has had a noteworthy comeback with an appearance on Daft Punk's highly successful album "Random Access Memories." The synthesizer composer has been an icon for many decades, but worked with the electronica duo for the first time and introduced a new generation to his ahead of its time style. For the most part, he remains an icon whose work feels typically 80's, which isn't a bad thing for dance enthusiasts. However, he is also a lot more involved with a few songs that aren't as immediately synonymous as you'd think. For instance, take Top Gun.

It make seem odd that a man who worked with Daft Punk would be associated with a film far removed from electronica. Top Gun for all purposes was a film known for its aerial combat and Kenny Loggins songs. However, there is one moment in the film that is almost as memorable that doesn't feature either. It is a love scene between Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis that is set to Berlin's "Take My Breath Away." For a film that is associated as cornball, it seems like an odd selection to see this on the Best Original Song list, let alone as a winner. However, it isn't just a Berlin song. It was co-composed by Moroder and Tom Whitlock. While it does have the familiar synthesizer and soothing vocals, it does have an emotional core that emphasizes the mood and gives the music power.

In fact, "Take My Breath Away" has remained a popular power ballad in the decades since. While it will forever remain synonymous with the film, it is just well executed. It manages to take minimalism to focus on vocals and gives the passion a certain power. By the end, it may feel like one of the most 80's songs imaginable, but Moroder knew how to give it personality and class. The lyrics may be simple, but it adds to their memorable nature. Again, it could just be that Berlin was highly successful at the time and made a song that resonated. However, much like Pharrell Williams and "Happy," it is also just because it became immediately recognizable and that adds a lot of weight to everything.

The 80's were a specific period and one that is more distinguished than any other decade. With its bright colors, bad fashion, and synthesizer soundtracks, it is hard to walk around without being able to point them out. While Moroder wasn't the only composer who contributed to this phenomenon, he was one of the most noteworthy, especially with additional work on Flashdance and Scarface. He was the energetic soul to the movement that depending on your fascination with the period was a good or a bad thing. However, he was more than a campy force, he brought quality to the music and as evident by "Take My Breath Away," could fine tune it to make something more human and interesting.

As long as Daft Punk, 80's culture, and Top Gun specifically stay popular (thanks, Archer), Moroder will be in our existence. With over 200 soundtrack credits on IMDb, he remains just as influential now as he did in his heyday. He manages to make work that speaks to the energetic and enthusiastic force that drives pop culture. He is the enthusiast in the face of melancholy, and for that we should respect him. Without his chops, films like Top Gun wouldn't be as distinguished and maybe Daft Punk wouldn't be nearly as funky. For this and many more reasons, he deserves some love on his birthday and should be given at least some time to dance to whatever song of his interests you most.

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