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Film review: 'Tower' the powerful recreation of a Texas campus shooting


Keith Maitland’s ‘Tower’ is the fascinating and powerful new documentary about the mass shooting which occurred on the University of Texas campus in the city of Austin on August 1, 1966. While such shootings today are commonplace, the University of Texas shooting was perhaps the first mass murder to be covered by the media in real time.

Although the story of the “Tower shootings” has been told before on a number of occasions on television, Maitland’s take is completely different and original. In addition to utilising the extensive film footage that was taken at a distance as the events unfolded on that tragic day, Maitland employs rotoscopic animation to illustrate the experience of survivors of the massacre as well law enforcement responders, in an up-close, personal way.
Maitland employs actors to play the parts of the participants and paints over their images with his software, which enables him to capture a reasonable reenactment of what went on that day. Interviews of victims and responders in the present day are interspersed with their fictional counterparts, which gives us a more emotional, complete picture of what happened as opposed to a simple, “dry” documentary.

The main protagonist here is Claire Wilson, an 18 year old student, who, along with her boyfriend, were the first to be shot by the diabolical shooter, Charles Whitman, who ended up killing 16 people and wounding approximately 30 others, from his perch on top of the University of Texas tower. Wilson’s boyfriend was killed instantly and she also lost her unborn child, as she was five months pregnant at the time.

The story hardly ends there. For an agonising hour and half, Wilson was lying on the pavement in 100 degree weather, bleeding from a bullet to her abdomen. Remarkably, another student braved the sniper and joined Wilson in order to comfort her—all the while playing dead as Whitman had her in his sights. Finally, additional heroes–a group of students– ran out in front of the tower entrance, and dragged Wilson to safety.The shooting is told from the perspective of a number of key eyewitnesses including a TV reporter who drives around in his news car, reporting the events as they transpire. We also follow two police officers and a civilian as they bravely climb up the tower, and eventually take out the gunman, who Maitland wisely hardly mentions.

During a recent Q&A with a lead producer, I learned that the University of Texas did not want to talk about the massacre after it happened. In fact, it was only last year that a true and lasting memorial was erected there to commemorate the terrible event. Tower becomes a welcome opportunity for the survivors to express emotions that have been in some cases, bottled up inside them for years.

Tower is successful due to its effective use of documentary film footage and modern-day interviews, coupled with the rotoscopic animation which gives it a dream-like quality. Tower is a gripping tale which will leave you speechless after you leave the movie theater.