Film Review: TOWER (USA 2016) ****

tower_.jpgTOWER (USA 2016) ****
Directed by Keith Maitland

Starring: Violett Beane, Louie Arnette, Blair Jackson

Review by Gilbert Seah

TOWER is an animated mixed archive footage reaction of one of the most chilling incidents in American history. On August 1st, 1966, a sniper rode the elevator to the top floor of the University of Texas Tower and opened fire, holding the campus hostage for 96 minutes. When the gunshots were finally silenced, the toll included 16 dead, three dozen wounded, and a shaken nation left trying to understand.

This is the first of America’s mass shootings. The film explores this untold history through the first-person stories of seven specific characters: two students who were shot that day, the two police officers who ended the siege, two civilians who inserted themselves into the story to provide aid to victims and police, and the radio reporter who broadcast live from the scene for more than an hour and a half, and whose broadcast was picked up nationally, bringing the events in Austin to listeners around the nation.

Once the film goes into first person, the audience is immediately immersed in the current situation looking at it from the person’s objective. Being animated, distractions are a minimum. The exact reactions and emotions, as realized by the animator can be most effectively conveyed. The identity of the shooter is clearly omitted, thus creating a more mysterious, chilling feel.

The film’s listenable soundtrack of hit tunes of the 60’s most effectively creates the feel of the 1966 film’s setting, aided by the arrival footage of vintage cars and people walking in 60’s garb. Maitland also uses the classic “Claire de Lune” (clearly his favourite music piece) during the siege and closing credits of the film,

One can also consider the film to be short stories of the different victims. The first victim is 18-year old Claire Wilson. She is first shot and she is revisited as she recounts her story – a sad one. Claire says: “All of a sudden I felt like I’d stepped on a live wire, like I’d been electrocuted.” Her boyfriend Tom reaches down to help her and he is struck down as well. For over an hour of the siege, Claire remains exposed to the shooter, conscious and steadily losing blood. Claire knows that her boyfriend has been killed and that she’s lost her baby too. “After some time, a really lovely young woman with red hair ran up to me and said, “Please, let me help you.” I told her to get down so she wouldn’t attract attention, and she lay down next to me. She stayed with me for at least an hour. It was a beautiful, selfless act.”

Some stories are more effective than others. Claire’s is the most touching. Halfway through Maitalnd’s film, a shiver would surely be sent down ones spin as one admires the heroes who sacrifice being shot while aiding the wounded victims. The film is also intersperses with the talking heads of actors of the real heroes, now aged since 1966, but their presence makes a marked impact to the story.

Maitland’s approach to documenting the tower shooting incident is no doubt novel and one may question why not enactment by real actors. A valid question, no doubt but this approach has produced a successful account, just as a live re-enactment might have achieved the same purpose. It helps tremendously that Maitland has worked close to the material, obtaining all the facts – from interviews of the surviving victims and then animating the action.



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