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  • Tower | Review

    By | October 12, 2016


    Director: Keith Maitland

    Starring: Violett Beane, Louie Arnette, Blair Jackson, Monty Muir, Chris Doubek

    Having been a resident of Austin for over 25 years and having spent the majority of that time as either a student or employee of the University of Texas at Austin, including a full decade plus actually working inside the Main Building/Tower on the UT campus, the story of the Tower shooting has always felt very personal and timely to me. Walking up and down the building’s stairs over the years, I’ve often wondered if Whitman had taken those same steps on his way up to his mad murder mission. But it was director Keith Maitland’s creative, original and masterful documentary, Tower, that first really gave voice to the victims and heroes (some both at the same time) of that August, 1966 day of terror and bravery.

    Those events, of course, took place 50 years ago, when engineering student Charles Whitman made his way to the top the University of Texas Tower with a number of rifles and guns and indiscriminately placed his sights on the large campus population going about their business down below. By the time he was done, he had murdered 16 people and injured twice as many more 33. But one of the many beautiful things about Tower is that it’s not the story of Whitman, despite being a story that couldn’t be told without his murderous actions. Instead it is the story of the the people who found themselves on or impacted by the receiving end of his gunfire that day and manages to change the narrative from one of murderous evil to one of bravery, courage, compassion and love.

    To say that a recent documentary is original and striking is, alone, high praise. When you consider that this film if filled with (generally dreaded by me) reenactments but still feels incredibly personal and authentic, it’s a true document of Maitland’s unique directorial voice and artistic vision. What Maitland does is mix archival news audio of the day along with later interviews with people who found themselves caught up in Whitman’s murder spree and then creates animated reenactments of their stories, narrated by actors. The animation style is Rotoscoping, which is created by drawing over live-action footage, allowing the moviemaker to create a silhouette that can be used to extract that object from a scene for use on a different background. This blend of styles is striking and bold, and upon first impression as I viewed the film I worried that it was a mistake. But as the narration of the day’s dark events unfolded from a variety of voices, I began to feel like I was listening to these individuals’ stories first-hand.

    When the film makes the late switch from animation to more recent interview footage of the survivors, it feels shocking and again, at first blush, struck me as a mistake but in hindsight, it’s not a mistake so much as another bold, creative choice. Having found myself fully drawn in to the aesthetic world of the the film’s Rotoscope stylings, it was like a shock to the system to suddenly leave that world behind and be thrown into the modern “real” world. But this effectively ties the past to the present in a way where we realize they are different yet the same, the impact of that day just as real and felt today as then.

    Rating: 9/10

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