CyOverview: Keith Maitland’s Tower is a gripping memorial and urgent document regarding the 1966 shooting at University of Texas at Austin. Kino Lorber; 2016; Not Rated; 82 minutes.
August 1, 1966: It was a serene and hot Texas day. Claire Wilson and Thomas Eckman amble across the University of Texas. They want to make it back to their car before it’s ticketed. Then, a sudden jolt and Claire collapses to the floor. Before the world becomes clear again, there’s another resounding crack and Thomas falls to the ground next to her — he doesn’t speak again. Claire lays on the blistering cement, unborn baby in her stomach, as blood puddles beneath her and the shots from above continue. For the next 96 minutes, a man with an arsenal of weapons sits atop the school’s tallest tower and holds the campus hostage. In the end, 32 people will be injured and 14 will lose their lives.
The Big Picture: The true wonder of Tower lies in its implacable desire for real human intimacy. It is not concerned with the man doing the shooting; instead, the film focuses on the lives of the victims. Maitland uses a combination of rotoscope and archival footage to tell a deeply personal tale of woe and hope. It falls gracefully in and out of these two modes, but the majority of Tower resides in animation. There is established a heightened sense of reality that provides an emotionally abstract canvas onto which the souls of these characters can be spilled. Yet, because of the real life footage, the film never feels too far detached from reality. You feel every second of this movie. The constant barrage of bullet fire, the panic, all of it. But the narrative never loses faith in the intrinsic good of the human spirit.
In the Details: An event is never bigger than the people involved; yet, in the contemporary moment in which gun violence is growing dishearteningly more prevalent, it would be simple to canvas the massacre with a heavy political bias. But Maitland and his crew are mindful to always treat their subjects with intimacy. In fact, Tower almost plays off like a casual slice of life. These are everyday people living everyday lives — people who would have been anonymous to us otherwise. They are full of desires, needs, and little intricacies. Tower paints a portrait of the resiliency in a society that can look at the absurd, almost random nature of evil and respond to it with courage and goodness.
Overall: Maitland takes a watershed moment and, instead of mining it for horrible details, he turns it inward. In many ways, Tower is an ode to kindness.
Featured Image: Kino Lorber