Fifty years on, Tower adopts a most unusual approach to portray tragic events that occurred on 1st August 1966.



Although not unknown elsewhere, the past half century has seen an increasing number of indiscriminate mass shootings make headlines in America. An early example of this rocked the nation in 1966 when for 96 minutes a sniper in Austin, Texas, took aim from the top of the clock tower of the University of Texas killing at random sixteen people who happened to be in the area and wounding thirty more. Cinema would come to reflect on such tragedies and as early as 1968 Peter Bogdanovich made his feature debut with Targets. Other such film dramas would follow including Gus Van Sant's Elephant (2003) which echoed the Columbine school massacre that had already led to Michael Moore's documentary study Bowling for Columbine (2002).


This new film, which originates from Austin itself, follows that of Moore in being a documentary since its depiction of the shootings there fifty years ago involves actual footage of the event and comments from those who were involved. However, the approach taken is a remarkable one. Clio Barnard's The Arbor may have been an influence since Tower uses actors to mouth words which consist of comments made then or in retrospect by individuals who were caught up in the drama as victims, witnesses or in two cases as persons present who in order to help bravely put themselves at risk without any duty to do so. 


However, the closest precedent on which Tower builds is Ari Folman's Waltz with Bashir (2006). In recent  times several documentaries have chosen to incorporate animated sequences to illustrate the tale being told, but Tower goes much further in that the greater part of it is given over to animated recreations of the events of 1st August 1966. It was Folman's film that established just how effective animation could be in the handling of grim real-life subject matter and Keith Maitland's Tower confirms that power. Indeed, in a kind of paradox, the use of animation here makes for a film that is compellingly vivid but at the same time through its stylisation is more bearable than it might otherwise have been. Arguably the film contains two minor misjudgements. I am not sure that it was wise to include a flashback to show the past happiness of the leading figure, a pregnant woman who was injured and whose boyfriend died (that seems to belong to another film) and I certainly find it misguided to feature on the music track the famous 'Clair de Lune' in the scene in which the authorities close in on the sniper. But otherwise it is very impressive.


As to who this film is for, I am  not altogether clear. The heroism displayed is justly celebrated but it is those who lived the experience who seem to be gaining by talking about their traumas here. The film can be taken as a further warning about America's obsession with guns, but the emphasis is very much on this one terrible event and some people will have no wish to see such a work. But, even if in the light of its precursors it is not quite groundbreaking, Tower is a remarkable and adventurous achievement and something of a triumph.




Featuring  the voices of Violett Beane, Monty Muir, Louie Arnette, Josephine McAdam, Chris Doubek, Blair Jackson, Reece Everett Ryan.


Dir Keith Maitland, Pro Megan Gilbride, Keith Maitland and Susan P. Thomson, Ph Keith Maitland and Sarah Wilson, Art Dir Keith Maitland, Ed Austin Reedy, Music Osei Essed.


Killer Impact/Meredith Vieira Productions-Picturehouse Docs.
82 mins. USA. 2016. Rel: 3 February 2017. No Cert.