Tower (2016) Poster


User Reviews

Review this title
36 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
Completely immersive and an amazing achievement
Red_Identity19 December 2016
This film is really an extraordinary achievement, in both the animation genre and the documentary genre. This could have been just like many other documentaries where talking heads are intercut with archival footage. By using animation, the film is able to create re- enactments that play around with memory and affective experience in a way that wouldn't be able to be done without animation. It's able to be a clear documentary while still telling a cohesive, linear narrative with many main characters and different perspectives at its core. This deserves to be seen and widely acclaimed, its achievement in not just how much of an emotional impact it has but also in various aspects of filmmaking are enough to recommend this to fans of quality cinema.
22 out of 28 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Beautiully told first person account of survival and courage
dmgreer22 April 2016
I cried three or four times, maybe five times while watching Tower.

Told with a combination of still photos, grainy 8mm film footage from the incident itself, and rotoscopic animation, it begins in the middle, with the radio announcement some tens of minutes into the incident, lingering only briefly to set the mood.

Then it switches to Claire talking about just before things started happening. The actress playing Claire is rotoscoped, which is an animation technique that looks both real and animated at the same time, because it's like tracing over the actual images. It's a good technique for this type of documentary, because at once it distances you from the actor, yet brings you closer to the person the actor is portraying, and of the age they were when the events took place.

In this way the actors explain things using the words of the real person who was being interviewed, and they also appear as characters in the re-enactment of the events. Because it's rotoscopy, the emotions of the actors carry over and you're able to relate to their feelings. The rotoscopy also enables the director to place people in the Mall without them actually being there, so there was no need to clear the Mall or to ask for permission to film. And it allows for a special touch when Claire tells of her fiancé.

Claire Wilson is the anchor of the story, having been the first one known shot, and also having been 8 months pregnant at the time. She lay out on the concrete of the Mall in front of the tower for over an hour in the August heat, her dead fiancé beside her, helped only by Rita Starpattern, who ran out to help despite the continued sniping.

Other main stories are of the two policemen who killed the sniper, a citizen who helped them, another policeman who went to help at the top of the tower, a freshman with his own story of heroism, a paperboy who was shot, the radio announcer who narrated and warned of the events, and a young woman who only watched.

Rita Starpattern appears only through Claire's narrative, because she died of cancer before anyone interviewed her. Some of the others had been interviewed before they died, and a few more, including Claire, were interviewed for the documentary.

The last part of the film is inter cut with the interviews of the real people whose avatars have been narrating the action. By saying Claire is the anchor, I don't mean to discount the contributions of the others, most of whom performed heroically in a desperate situation.

The sound of the movie is evocative, with music from the time, announcements on the radio, the cicadas of Summer, and of course the incessant gunfire.

I saw the film at the Dallas International Film Festival, so the director was there to answer questions at the end. Answers I recall were that the sniper, who does not appear in the film, made a midnight call on his music teacher, saying that he was very upset and needed to talk. He sat down at the piano and played Claire de Lune, and then said that was what he needed, and left.

Another was that Rita Starpattern never spoke of her actions that day. He said many people in Austin, where she had lived, gasped when they saw her name.

One man in the audience said he knew the sniper's CO in the Marines, who said that the sniper was very much into his role as a killer, and looked forward to being able to kill people legally.

It's odd to think of something that happened in one's own lifetime as a period piece, but younger viewers will understand more of what life was like before ubiquitous global communication. After the shooting, everyone involved lost contact with each other, something unimaginable today. A local radio announcer was the sole contact for news, and also served to warn people about what was going on. At least there were home phones, radio, TV, and 8mm cameras, so I guess it wasn't that primitive.
24 out of 32 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Powerful Film Recreating the 1966 UT Tower Shooting
JustCuriosity18 March 2016
SPOILER: Tower received huge ovations and overwhelming support in its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin. It has already won the grand jury award for best documentary. This is powerful spectacular film that brings back the most traumatic event in the history of this city when a gun man from the UT-Austin's iconic tower committed mass murder on sunny day in August. The film was made to mark the upcoming 50th anniversary of the one of the earliest and one of the worst mass school shootings in American history. It will be released widely on PBS's Independent Lens later this year and possibly in theaters as well. There are still many folks in Austin who remember that day. The filmmaker made the brilliant choice to combine original news coverage with animation so as to recreate the tragic events nearly perfectly (without having to actually film people shooting on the UT- Austin campus). They use actor's voice to recreate the events which are based on interviews with many of the original participants (victims, police, witnesses). Very little is said about the gun man.

For those of us came to the Forty Acres (UT-Austin campus) years later, there is an eerie feeling in just watching the events play out at the center of campus where we know every building, every column, every statue like our own homes. The film is haunting and spellbinding. I really couldn't look away. Afterwards, many of the still living original participants who were portrayed in the film were present on the stage. The moving presence was Clare Wilson, the woman who was 8-month pregnant, and lost her baby and her boyfriend that day.

Tower remains mostly non-political as the film is mostly just a recreating of horror of August 1, 1966. Towards the end, it does speak to the current politics of the issue – particularly the Texas campus carry. That law is scheduled to take effect at 4-year universities in Texas on the 50th anniversary on August 1, 2016 – supposedly by coincidence. Those current day politics have become an unavoidable epilogue that have forced themselves into the debate. That will also be the day when they are planning to unveil an official memorial to the victims on the UT campus. This is a difficult film to watch, but it must be seen, because the history remains completely relevant today.
22 out of 31 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A superior documentary
proud_luddite24 April 2018
On August 1, 1966, a sniper climbed to the observation deck of the clock tower at the University of Texas - Austin. From there, he randomly shot and killed fourteen people and injured thirty-two others. The story is retold in this film which is mostly a documentary but also a drama where some events are re-enacted in rotoscopic animation.

The shooting spree lasted about an hour and a half which is close to the length of this movie. As events seem to be happening in real time, this film succeeds in having the effect of a thriller - at least to those of us who did not know the final outcome of the tragedy.

Director Keith Maitland has made some unique choices that pay off fabulously. The available footage is compelling; the use of animation to continue the story (where footage is not available) is also very effective.

This movie is more powerful than most documentaries in that it places viewers in the moral dilemma of some of the bystanders: what does one do upon seeing someone wounded who is in clear view from the tower? While helping is the right thing to do, how does one do so without risking getting shot?

Once the main narrative of the event is complete, the post-script takes on a life of its own. It includes interviews with some of the survivors, police officers, and observers including archived interviews of those who have died since the event. This satisfies a curiosity especially when they speak openly of the traumatic memories followed by a healing process.

Maitland has deliberately excluded much information about the assassin with an exception being a photo which generates many mixed feelings. The inclusion of a commentary by the revered Walter Cronkite is also very well chosen especially considering the many mass shootings that have happened in the half-century since. This is a superior documentary. - dbamateurcritic
8 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A critic took the words out of my mouth: essential viewing.
artmania9016 January 2017
TOWER is an important movie for all the right reasons. It is an artistic feast; a cinematic marvel that recreates a tragedy with a simple beauty without falling into the tropes of documentary filmmaking. This is not a documentary, rather it's more of a non-fiction retelling that casts actors to read lines in place of the real people. It recounts a school shooting that happened long before memories of Columbine - on a sprawling Texas campus where a sniper took a town hostage and murdered a total of 17 victims (including an unborn child) and shooting a total of 49 people. In a time when mass shootings have become a standard scroll on the nightly news, this was a new kind of crime. It only seems fitting that the movie uses a new form of craft to tell it.

It was the summer of 1966 on the sweltering campus of the University of Texas at Austin. Summer courses were just beginning, and the college town surrounding the buildings were bustling with excited youth and students. It was just after noon. From nowhere, people recall hearing "pops" and suddenly the air was filled with targeted bullets, first striking down a pregnant woman and her boyfriend in the stone plaza outside the central clock tower. Soon after, a boy on his bike was shot several blocks away. Chaos ensued.

On a day when the top news was going to be little more than the heat, here was suddenly a national emergency that gripped the country. A local news director hopped in his car and broadcast the scene from a portable radio. His voice was heard all over America. From the clock tower, the rumors that a sniper was preying on those below with no regard and no sense. Why don't more people talk about this tragedy today?

The film is designed to be a documentary (although I would argue it doesn't fall into that specific genre for a variety of reasons) with talking heads of students and police officers explaining what happened. We know they are actors, and their accounts strike us as surprisingly modern in expression and tone. The rotoscoped faces keep the past at a safe distance, and it's almost easy for the audience to distance themselves from the horror that actually happened here. Through black and white recreations and grainy archival footage, the film crafts a landscape of southern comfort and familiarity with those living nearby.

There is a moment like a bombshell midway through the film, when we suddenly cut from the illustrated actor to an actual aged woman, continuing her story without a moment's hesitation. This woman (now in her 60's or so) is one of the survivors: the woman who lost her unborn child at the hand of the gunman. It's a revelation - splicing the animation with the real, creating a moment that is all the more impactful by bridging that historical and visual gap. Now we understand that these actors are not reading from a script... They are telling the actual words by those who survived it.

There are beautiful moments that are beyond words - like when a red-headed woman rushed to the aid of this pregnant woman even though she remained completely vulnerable to the shooter. They begin a conversation to keep their minds off the terror and carnage. Another moment when a couple of students act heroically in order to save victims from the slow death that awaited them. They run out in the face of danger and carry victims to safety. This was a time that separated the heroes amongst us, and there were unbelievably brave people that were caught in the midst of it all.

By the end, "Tower" became a movie that commented on the string of recent shootings, the prevalence of violence in our culture, our unwillingness to stop it... There have been several movies made about the ideas of school violence and mass shootings. I recently re-watched "Elephant" which is a great Gus Van Sant film that recreates a Columbine-like shooting and yet does nothing to answer the simple question of "why?" "Tower" is great not because deals with the same question, rather it adds to it: why can't we stop this from happening?
12 out of 17 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Rotoscope animation glues together accounts of this horrific story into a gripping, unique documentary
Movie_Muse_Reviews29 January 2017
At the onset, it might seem insensitive to tell the story of a deadly mass shooting using rotoscope animation, but after you settle into the style of filmmaker Keith Maitland's "Tower," you realize how useful (and even powerful) a tool animation can be to tell a story that largely exists in fragments of witnesses' memories.

Maitland pieces together the horrifying 90 minutes on a sweltering summer day — August 1, 1966 — when a lone sniper essentially took the University of Texas at Austin campus hostage from the top of the campus clocktower, killing 16 people and wounding more than 40. With only testimonials and scarce video, audio, photos and news media coverage of the event at his disposal, Maitland mostly turns to animation to fill the gaps and relate what actually happened as completely as possible. The finished product is as close to a moment by moment account of the shooting — from the perspective of those who lived through it and were closest to the action — as possible.

Most filmmakers would shy away from a subject like this. There's not much to work with, it could feel too exploitative of people's trauma and live action reenactments of what happened would come across as inauthentic if not comical. But the rotoscoping effect, and Maitland's choice to animate his subjects as they looked in 1966, casting actors to play them in animated reenactments and to read their testimonials with younger voices, addresses all these concerns. It's as if Maitland dips part of the documentary in fiction just so that it can all come together more cohesively. Instead of cutting frequently between the real and the reenacted, he blends to the two.

This also turns "Tower" into a captivating, pulse-pounding retelling of events, almost as if it were a feature film. For those unfamiliar with story, it's all the more engrossing, and kind of jaw-dropping when you consider that it all actually happened. Adults young and old today have no shortage of mass shootings to draw from in their minds, but few lasted 90 terrifying minutes like the UT-Austin tower shooting. That makes it all the more important to create the vivid account we get in "Tower." What the witnesses and survivors experienced doesn't deserve to be reduced.

As has been the case with most media accounts of mass shootings, the focus always turns first to the shooter — who could be so evil and/or disturbed to take human lives this way? This was especially the case in this shooting; the attention was turned to the perpetrator and not the victims (and heroes) by magazines and broadcast media, some of which we see in the film. "Tower" almost entirely ignores who Charles Witman was and instead gives the narrative of events back to these victims and heroes. Maitland wants to honor their experiences and dig deeper into how they remember and process trauma instead of heaping attention on the selfish individual responsible for it all.

Again, it might seem like rotoscoping would work counter to this objective by obscuring the film's subjects in portraying them as "cartoons" with professional actors' voices, yet Maitland navigates that creatively as well and shows us that authenticity doesn't only come from the way someone looks or sounds, but that their "voice" is their story. The rotoscoping actually forces us to focus on their story and only their story. It allows us to live in those moments, rather than the person's recollection of those moments.

"Tower" stands out as a piece of creative, resourceful documentary filmmaking, one that allows the director to tell a complete story from disjointed pieces, and an absolutely gripping story at that. You might argue that this method and style allows Maitland to exert a bit too much of his own influence over the film, but his creative license largely comes in the form of accents that honor rather than exaggerate the stories of his subjects. Regardless, "Tower" raises the bar for how documentary stories can be told.

~Steven C

Thanks for reading! Visit Movie Muse Reviews for more
9 out of 13 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Powerful and beautifully realized
howard.schumann11 March 2017
In his powerful and beautifully realized documentary, Keith Matiland's ("A Song for You: The Austin City Limits Story") Tower movingly recreates the shock and heartbreak of the random shooting of 49 people at the University of Texas in the summer of 1966. The attack was the first mass shooting at any school in the U.S, but sadly, it was not to be the last. With seven guns and over 700 rounds of ammunition, 25-year-old Charles Whitman, a troubled ex-marine who had already murdered his mother and his wife, opened fire at 11:48 a.m., and kept firing round after round for one hour and 36 minutes before being shot and killed by police officers. When the carnage had stopped, there were 16 dead and 33 injured. It was a tragedy that those involved were never able to forget, though many tried to suppress its awful memories.

Using the technique known as rotoscoping, Maitland interweaves the animated recreations with archival footage, interviews culled from Pamela Colloff's 1996 Texas Monthly article "96 Minutes," and real-life images of the victims both at the time of the tragedy and as they are today, talking about the events 50-years ago. With devastating intensity, we become witness to the tragedy as it unfolds minute–by-minute, hour-by-hour, allowing us to be present to the impact on the victims and those who risked their lives to save them. The film builds up tension from the opening sequence as reporter Neal Spelce (Monty Muir, "Slacker 2011") is seen driving towards the campus, warning everyone to stay away from the University area because a sniper is "firing at will."

The first victims are Claire Wilson James (Violett Beane, "Slash"), a pregnant 18-year-old freshman walking to class with her boyfriend Tom Eckman (Cole Bee Wilson) after a coffee break. As the horrific sounds of the shots ring out, both are hit and fall to the ground, depicted in almost dreamlike fashion as white silhouettes falling against a background of bright red. The camera stays with the pregnant Claire who remains conscious while lying on the concrete in 100 degree heat, the unmoving body of her boyfriend lying next to her. Miraculously, another student Rita Starpattern (Josephine McAdam, "The Honor Farm") risks her life to keep Claire alive by lying next to her and engaging her in conversation. Rita's heroic efforts continue until the wounded girl is rescued by John (Artly) Fox (Seamus Bolivar-Ochoa), a student who, along with a friend, risks gunfire to carry Claire to safety.

The tragedy mercifully comes to an end when officers Ramiro Martinez (Louie Arnette, "Light From the Darkroom"), Houston McCoy (Blair Jackson, "Varsity Blood"), and the deputized Allen Crum (Chris Doubek, "Boyhood"), ascend to the observation desk to subdue Whitman while dodging bullets from well-meaning amateur gun owners on the ground firing up to the tower. Some of the most moving scenes of the film occur near the end when Maitland interweaves actual footage of the survivors as they reflect on the tragedy. In addition to Claire, interviewed are Aleck Hernandez, Jr., a teenager delivering newspapers on his bicycle with his cousin when he was shot, Brenda Bell, a student who observed the shootings from afar, and Allen Crum, the bookstore manager who helped subdue the shooter.

Crum, Martinez, and McCoy talk about whether or not they could have gone up to the tower sooner and Claire introduces us to the Ethiopian boy she adopted (she also sponsored 26 of his family members to come to the U.S.), though admitting she still dreams about reuniting with the child she lost in the killings. As some witnesses break down in tears, it is clear that the trauma associated with the events of 1966 has not disappeared, though some are talking about them for the first time. Though Tower never becomes overtly political or uses the incident to advocate for gun control, Maitland's reminder of the subsequent mass killings at Columbine, Newtown, Colorado Springs, San Bernardino and too many others say all that needs to be said.
10 out of 16 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Not much can be said that hasn't already been said here..
santadog-362401 April 2017
...other than I lived in Austin for 25 years.. but starting in the 90s. I've been on that mall on a hot August day, heard the locust, felt the heat coming off the pave, and recognized every bit of scenery. I've heard the story time and time again, and watching Tower I cried about 5 min in, and continued to do so until the credits rolled. The animation brought the bits and pieces of a splintered story into a very cohesive and powerful movie.
6 out of 9 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
powerful and moving
reid-hawk4 January 2017
Warning: Spoilers
The decision in "Tower" to stylistically recreate the actions of the heroes and heroines that took place during August 1st, 1966 is the best single design choice I have ever seen in a documentary. This movie, while still being a compelling true story, would lose lots of its tension and dehumanize many of its victims without the animated sections. "Tower" emotionally moved me, both through its depressing moments and its moments of heroics. Never before has a documentary connected with me on such an emotional level before. However, this movie also frustrated me, particularly towards the third act. some moments of voice acting are weak, but that is only a minor grip. My main issue is with the closing monologue with which the film ends, a monologue that blames violence in media, television, movies, and every other buzzword as an excuse for why the killer did what he did. It does not mention his malignant tumor that had been unknowingly destroying his mind and controlling his actions which is the popular theory as to why he did what he did that day. No, instead the movie seems to blame modern society as a whole for the actions of a single mentally ill man who was given no treatment. This flawed ending does not ruin or even too badly damage the movie for me. In fact I loved it so much I'm going to rate it a 9/10 and say that it is, as of this moment, by far my favorite documentary of the year.
6 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Sad but Compelling
billcr1230 March 2017
I have been a reader of true crime going back to 1981 beginning with Ann Rule's "The Stranger Beside Me." I was, therefore, familiar with Charles Whitman's shooting spree at the University of Texas in Austin on August 1, 1966. Writer-director Keith Maitland uses real archival footage with animation to show the bloodshed from the victims perspective. Even after fifty years, the story still resonates as the first of the many mass killings in the United States. The heroes are many, from a few people who risked their live to rescue a pregnant woman to the police officers who finally took Whitman down, this is one of the best animated films that I have ever seen. My one small criticism is not including more material on Charles Whitman's background as a marine and former alter boy from a typical all American family. No one can really know the private demons within Whitman, but I would have appreciated a more deep analysis of the killer. Even with that drawback, The Tower is well worth your time.
5 out of 9 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
High crime
Lejink13 February 2017
This unusual film demonstrated an innovative way to fill in the gaps of a major news event where there are still survivors alive to share their memories but where there's a lack of available archive footage to fully tell the story. The event here was as I understand it, the first, but as we now know, far from last occasion when a warped individual exercised their constitutional right to bear arms by massacring innocent civilians in cold blood. On this occasion, ex-Marine Charles Whitman killed his mother and pregnant wife before taking to the tower at Texas University to rain down murder and mayhem onto whoever came into his eye-line.

I can recall the excellent debut feature of Peter Bogdanovich "Targets" made in 1968 which made this then very recent story its backdrop, albeit with different names for the principal characters. The ambition of this feature however was to take us through the actual 96 minutes of the onslaught almost in real time by recreating the memories of the survivors, some since deceased, in vivid animation sequences. I doubt it's coincidence that the film's running time is the selfsame 96 minutes. Actors resembling the real life characters play the latter's younger selves in both telling the story as it occurred in pieces-to-camera as well as in physical recreations of the events of the day as it unfolded. There is no third party commentary at all and at the end we get to see the witnesses in the present day, to give the film, as well as themselves perhaps, a sense of closure.

The animation takes a little getting used to initially but is skilfully done in a near-lifelike manner which gradually draws the viewer into the action. Again I applaud the modern trend of giving next to nothing by way of background or motive and therefore importance far less justification to the perpetrator of these awful killings. Instead the focus is, as it should be, on the remarkable courage of everyday individuals, from the young cop who goes to the crime scene even when off-duty, the shopkeeper who ends up on the tower with the policeman, rifle-in-hand, to the young students who run in full view of the shooter, one young girl to comfort a wounded pregnant young woman, lying prone next to her fatally shot boyfriend and a couple of boys who actually lift her out of harm's way.

One wonders if the filmmakers here will go on to use a similar technique on other in-living-memory calamitous events but one suspects it will more likely prove a one-off exercise. I do believe though that the director's primary motivation was to re-tell a remarkable, if tragic, story rather than demonstrate flashy technique. If occasionally there are mistakes in the pacing as sequences are unnecessarily run and re-run for no apparent reason and also no real political point is made about gun-control itself, still the narrative is compelling as only a true-life disaster can be.
4 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
The story behind the numbers
ferguson-66 May 2016
Greetings again from the darkness. The numbers are etched in memory. August 1, 1966. The 27th floor. 16 dead. 32 wounded. 8 months pregnant. 96 minutes. But thanks to director Keith Maitland, the story he tells is what lies behind those numbers … the innocent people involved that tragic day almost 50 years ago on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin.

A beautifully creative approach blends archival news footage, on-site live radio reports, amateur photography, rotoscopic animation, and the captivating recollections of the survivors in their own words (as read by actors). Given the use of animation, it's more of a reconstruction than a reenactment, and it's incredibly intense as we are transported to the day a lone gunman shattered more than the peacefulness of a sunny, hot August day in Austin. It was a day that shook the country, and caused terror, confusion and panic … and also acts of heroism.

By focusing on the victims and those who had no choice but to be involved that day, director Maitland makes little mention of the shooter (a name I won't publish here). We hear the words of Clare Wilson, the first shooting victim who was 8 months pregnant at the time. We also hear the words of Allen Crum, the University Co-op manager, whose heroic actions helped put an end to the tragic events of the day. Of course, police officers Ray Martinez and Houston McCoy are credited with ascending 27 floors and taking down the bad guy, and it's mesmerizing to hear their recollections of that day.

It was also fascinating to hear the replays of the on-site reporting from Neal Spelce of KTBC radio as he made his way around campus – reporting live to the nation. We also learned many details about how the police responded, how citizen vigilantes jumped in to help with their deer rifles (it is Texas after all), and how some acted so valiantly in the face of horror, while others understandably went ducking for cover. There is also the extremely moving mass assembly of quiet support as the ordeal finally ended.

Political commentary is minimal and confined to the very end as we are informed that, quite ironically, August 1, 2016 will mark the 50th anniversary of this event … and it's also the day that the new Texas campus carry law goes into effect. There are also reminders of more recent mass shootings: Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, and the Aurora, Colorado movie theater.

In the post film Q&A, director Maitland addressed, what he called the disruption of public space and how it leads to various responses by ordinary people … some quite heroic and selfless. Much of the film follows the extraordinary Texas Monthly article by Pamela Colloff entitled "96 Minutes". It's a must read and the perfect complement to this exceptionally well made and emotional documentary (which will air on PBS later this year).
7 out of 15 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
What an Amazing Recreation
Hitchcoc14 February 2017
In 1966 in Austin, Texas, a lone sniper occupied a tower on the University of Texas and began to randomly fire at people. Forty-nine were shot and sixteen killed. The documentary recreates the events of that day, using a combination of news footage and high level animation. It uses the words of the victims to recreate the events of that day. There was one woman in particular who is focused on. She was pregnant and lay on the concrete next to her dead boyfriend. It took a brave woman, risking her life, and a young man and his friend who didn't even know her, to risk their lives, for her to survive. The strength is in the tight storytelling. I was a freshman in college, just like many of the young people who were shot and the student population in general. I remember watching a common TV in the student union. We were totally wrapped up in these events. But I have to admit that until I saw that this video existed, I had forgotten this even took place.
5 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
The first mass school shooting from the victims' point of view
Lilcount27 November 2016
Warning: Spoilers
WARNING! Major spoilers ahead.

In 1968, Peter Bogdanovich based his film "Targets" on the mass shooting at the University of Texas-Austin on August 1, 1966. Bogdanovich focused on the shooter. Now, nearly half a century later, director Keith Maitland looks at the incident from the viewpoint of the victims in "Tower."

After the MOMA screening on Nov. 26, 2016, the director answered questions about his film. The main purpose of this review is to preserve some of his responses.

A big question was why "Clair de Lune" was the background music to the shooting of the sniper, Charles Whitman, by Austin police officer Ray Martinez. Maitland told the audience that a few weeks before the shootings, Whitman, a student at UT-Austin, had paid a late night visit to one of his professors. Whitman was clearly agitated. He said he was depressed, he had many issues in his personal life, and he needed an extension of time for his term project. Suddenly, the professor said, Whitman noticed the professor's piano and asked if he could play it. The professor agreed, and Whitman proceeded to play, according to the professor, "the most beautiful rendition of Clair de Lune he had ever heard." When Whitman was finished, all the anger had drained from him. As he left, Whitman said, "That's what I needed."

Maitland explained that by using the piece just before Whitman's death, it was his way of acknowledging the humanity of the shooter. As his life ended, he was finally at peace.

Of the eight people whose stories are told in this film, the most prominent is Claire Wilson, the first person shot, who lay next to her dead fiancé on concrete in 100 degree weather for nearly an hour before a couple of brave souls carried her to safety. Wilson, who also lost her unborn son, said at the end of the film that she had forgiven Whitman. The only depiction of the shooter in the entire film is a photograph of him as a child in a magazine article. Whitman is seen at age 3 standing between two rifles.

Claire Wilson became a schoolteacher for thirty years and an adoptive mother. A lifelong activist, she dropped out of school at age 13 to volunteer to register voters in the deep South. She had received special dispensation to attend UT-Austin without a high school diploma.

The film itself is superb. The rotoscopy is first rate, and the actors who play the subjects for most of the film are uniformly excellent.

Highly recommended.
5 out of 11 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Powerful recreation of 1966 U. of Texas Tower shooting utilizing rotoscopic animation
Turfseer19 November 2016
Warning: Spoilers
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 utilizing 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 agonizing 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.
5 out of 11 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
An action film, pretending to be an animated documentary
ayoreinf11 July 2016
Don't get me wrong, it's a great film, but in my book this is simply not a documentary. It does use the tools of a documentary, so we all know that these events did take place exactly as told, but what we all see is nothing short of an action film. The fact that this action film did happened, and the people telling us this story were actually there when it happened doesn't make it any less of an action film.

One more point I have to relate to. The usage of animation as the main tool for telling the story. It's more than a gimmick. It might have something to do with the very practical reasons mentioned in the Q&A session we had after the screening at the 2016 JFF, but it has one more effect. It makes all the special effects: the ones used to describe the surreal feeling of the victims lying wounded on the hot pavement, and the real pictures of the actual characters flashing on screen every now and again, all of them become an equal part of the same reality the film is showing us. If we were watching a live action film with special effects used for certain specific moments, these moments would become an unreal part of a true story. As is, everything we see is just as real, and that's another part of what makes this film so unique.
8 out of 22 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
An unusual way of re-telling the tragic 1966 shooting spree.
MartinHafer11 May 2017
Back in 1966, a tragedy occurred at the University of Texas. A crazed gunman atop the clock tower began opening fire on folks down below...killing about a dozen folks and injuring many more during this 90 minute spree. This film is the second I have seen about it...and it's very different from "The Deadly Tower", a made for TV movie from 1975. "Tower" tells the story using voice actors and rotoscoped* animations of the actors. The voice actors read testimony by a variety of survivors who witnessed the incident. There are also a few folks who talk about it without the use of animation as well as some archival footage from the time. And, here's what is really interesting...instead of focusing on the killer as the previous film did, this new film deliberately avoided mentioning him or giving any attention to him personally. This was a wise decision and really showed respect for the man's many victims. Instead, it focused on the folks who risked their lives that day--who ran out to help the victims.

Overall, it was a compelling story told in an unusual manner by Keith Maitland. Well worth seeing...especially since some folks really rose to the occasion that day and proved that within tragedy was some humanity. Just be sure, if you do watch, that you keep some Kleenex handy...just in case.

*Rotoscoping is a simple technique for animation. A scene is filmed live and the drawings are made atop the original pictures. It's been around since at least 1915 when the Fleischer Brothers used it in their animated films.
3 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
larrys328 April 2017
Warning: Spoilers
This gripping and brilliant film recreates the horrific mass shooting on the campus of the University of Texas, in Austin, on August 1, 1966. On that date, Charles J. Whitman, after killing his wife and mother, rose to the observation level of the Tower building with an arsenal of weapons, and began to fire on innocent people below for about 90 minutes. killing 16 and wounding 33 others.

The movie combines archival footage, eyewitness accounts, and animation in a most effective way to bring the viewer a moment by moment accounting of the tragic event. As many wounded and dead lay in the courtyard below the Tower, the police found that they did not have the weaponry that would reach the sniper. Thus, it would be up to 3 Austin policemen, led by a Captain Martinez, and a civilian to try to climb to the observation deck and put an end to the nightmare.

Overall, the movie, directed by Keith Maitland, is greatly enhanced by presenting to the viewer the moving accounts of those that survived the mass shooting and how today the trauma of that day has affected their lives. Can highly recommend this film to those that like this type of movie.
3 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Moving and Inspiring
gingela13 June 2016
Was able to view this at deadCenter Film Festival in OKC with the filmmakers in attendance. The film is all that the other reviewers say; immersive, surprising and tastefully done. The most interesting part was the Q&A after the film. The filmmakers shared their stories of why they wanted to bring this story to light, and shared the responses they received from people that were there that day. So many emotions. This is the first documented mass shooting in modern times, and seeing it unfold and seeing how people responded in light of how we respond now to mass shootings was one reason named. Another reason named was the fact that no one at UT really talks about it. I grew up knowing about it up here in Oklahoma, but was surprised no one at UT shared the story. And the fact that many of the survivors didn't want to revisit the events also was interesting. I would highly recommend this film, especially if you get to visit with the filmmakers.
5 out of 13 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
I walk across the mall past the Tower almost everyday
sildarmillion3 August 2018
I'm a grad student at UT Austin. I went on the Tower Tour last week - on the very observation deck from where the sniper shot. The tour guides aren't supposed to make the tour about the shooting story, so they didn't go into it, but they told us about the documentary.

It's a mix of archival footage and animation. The animation recreates the shooting. And it was riveting. It's probably riveting for anyone to watch, but watching a horror story unfold in so familiar a location - one that's part of my daily life - is something else altogether.

Maybe I'll take a different route tomorrow, or maybe I'll figure out a way to put this story out of my mind. Also, it was August 1st just yesterday. 52 years to the date.

FYI there is heavy security at the tower these days. You have to pass through a metal detector and everything to go on the tour.
2 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Timely telling of the UT Tower terror
backwardsiris15 March 2018
As timely as ever (tragically so), TOWER recounts stories of a few individuals whose lives were forever changed by the fateful events of August 1st, 1966 on the campus of University of Texas, Austin. Narrated by some of the survivors of the first mass shooting on a U.S. college campus, the recreations are presented in beautifully animated rotoscoping. The animation brings a surreal dream-like quality, similar (I can only imagine) to how the survivors, heroes & bystanders must have felt on such a hot, nightmarish summer's day. Like a thunderclap out of the blue, the crack of the first bullet sent shockwaves through the audience, as it took down a pregnant Claire Wilson. 50 years later, you can still hear the heartache in her voice as she narrates not only being shot (which caused the loss of her unborn child), but also witnessing the death of her fiancé, who was fatally shot as he bent over to help her up. Throughout the movie, we are introduced to a handful of the players in the day's events & we are shown the terror as seen through their eyes. While many of the stories were about brave acts of heroism, there were also honest moments of fear, confusion, hesitation & self-preservation. As the story unfolds, you can't help but wonder how you'd react in a situation like this. Would you stand behind a pillar, waiting for it all to end? Would you run into the shooter's sight to comfort a bleeding pregnant woman, trying to keep her conscious until she can be moved to safety? Would you slink closer to the tower, attempting to remain unseen by the sniper & assist the police? I don't think anyone can know until they've been in this situation (something I hope none of us experience), so we certainly cannot judge the many who chose security over bravery that day. However, the truly brave are to be admired for their boldness, selflessness & quick-thinking. The movie does a good job focusing on the victims, survivors & heroes, instead of the story gravitating around the shooter, as is often played out in the media. This was a very deliberate choice on the part of director Keith Maitland, who said in the Q&A that there are plenty of websites, movies & articles devoted to the shooter, so he didn't feel that perspective was warranted in this film. Once the final stand-off comes to an end, the interviews shift from rotoscoped reenactments to live footage of the survivors, who still carry the weight of this heavy day on their countenances. Maitland said he couldn't speak directly on gun-control policy, and would leave that to those "smarter than him" who are expert in the area of policy-making, but he hoped it would spark important conversations with all who watch this film. A truly poignant & unique piece of documentary cinema.
2 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A great documentary.I could say revolutionary
davidracovita29 January 2017
I went into this movie blind, not knowing what to expect. I love the fact that this movie gets straight into the action.It doesn't even take time to present you with the characters. Then, of course, the film is animated.Amazing choice I think.The animation was gorgeous.It was like a stop motion, but not a stop motion.The editing, especially in the first 50 minutes or so, the editing is flawless.Also, the movie is very emotional, and can make you cry and laugh in the same moment.The pacing of the film is also almost perfect.Also, it didn't focus on the killer what so ever.The whole movie was about the victims and the heroes.It is one of the most strongly emotional movies I have seen.

In my opinion, this is the best documentary of 2016.I strongly recommend it.
3 out of 8 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
matthijsalexander18 February 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Well, plenty of reviews, the story doesn't need any further explaining so I will just say that this is innovative, creative and a genius way of telling a story accurately.

The animation really allows for the viewer to get into the situation and get into the emotions of the participants.

I think this is groundbreaking and will surely be the start of a whole new cinematic aspect to documentaries. This method allows for way more accuracy and punctuality.

Great job, well done! Must see ASAP!
3 out of 9 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Great film beautifully conceived
seekerfilms10 September 2017
Great film beautifully conceived and executed. The animation was perfect. Only thing that stood out to me as strange was the police office saying that he thought the tower was filled with Black Panthers starting a revolution.

The shooting from the tower was in August of 1966 and the Black Panther party for Self Defense was not formed until October 1966 - 2 months later. I am surprised the filmmaker did not catch this as it undermines some of the testimony because you realize that with time or testosterone people tend to embellish stories to make themselves look better perhaps than they were.

Still loved it, but just questioning the full authenticity now not the craft.
2 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
About the first such incident in the US history.
Reno-Rangan14 May 2017
It was like another documentary film that I saw one last week. But this time it was an even bigger scale. This, the original event took place exactly 50 years ago and first of its kind. Since then hundreds of similar events have been recorded. Many of them were made into films, but I don't remember this one was ever turned into one. This is about a raged gunman on the college campus, where many people got killed and injured. A shocking incident, even cops did not know how to handle it at first.

So, the film reveals one of the most horrific episodes ever happened in the American soil. Like everything has a first time, this is where it all began for this kind of event. The filmmakers used some of the original archive footage to tell the story, but the majority of the film was the animation. Since it was a documentary film and was made under a tight budget, the visuals were not that pleasant, but the notion was well achieved.

Documentary films and interviews are like thunder and lightening. So there are interviews in it, but most of them were made-up of. I mean they were real, though not with the real people, except their recorded voice interviews in most of the cases. It was challenging to bring back the original event on the screen since it is not a feature film to recreate whatever way they want, especially that occurred half a century ago. But very appreciable for even giving us this much of detail to feel the vibe.

❝One of the truths I have learnt is that there are monsters that walk among us.❞

It was like any other normal day on the campus of the University of Texas in Austin. But the scenario has suddenly changed when two student couple fell on the ground not aware of what just happened, and so the people around. After some time, it became clear that a gunman open fired on them and many others from a nearby tower, but the real issue is nobody could see him. Soon it reached the radio and television, and alert has been circulated. Then the cops got involved to solve the matter and how it all ends covered in the rest of the films.

This is a good film, revealed most of the parts as much as in details, but I'm not fully convinced. Because the concept of narration was quite similar to feature film style where they want to keep the mystery. It all begins with one perspective and multiplies as it progresses. Except not focusing enough on the negative character. I understood the situation of the event, but I did not get enough detail about the gunman. It was like one side of the story. So mysterious and it stayed that way.

Shorter and well paced. This is definitely worth checking out, though not a must see. To learn the history, the bad one. I had no idea about it prior to watch, but at the end, I felt it accomplished everything on its capacity to give out the truth. No matter it is a documentary film, along with the suspense, the tension was well balanced. So, more or less it is same as like watching a regular crime film. That's especially for those who are not into documentary films. I hope someone would make a feature film out of it.

2 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews

Recently Viewed