VOD Releases: Tower (2016) - Reviewed

An animated memorial to one of the darkest days in American history, Keith Maitland's Tower is an intimate wonder, using archival footage blended with animation to recreate the events of the 1966 shootings at the University of Texas at Austin. Refusing to give any of the spotlight to the killer or his motives, Tower focuses on the human elements of survival and heroism, respectfully exploring a plethora of characters' fates on the day in question through stories of charity, fear, and overwhelming calm in the face of senseless violence. 

Tower is based off of an article, 96 Minutes, written by Pamela Colloff who served as an executive producer on the film. The movie seeks to examine the incident itself, rather than its antecedents or the aftermath. The killer's name is mentioned only once and the story elects to focus on the victims and survivors, using present day interviews with the living to recall the campus's collective psyche on the fateful day. 

Rotoscoping is a technique in which illustrators draw on top of live action footage, creating a unique appearance of animated reality. To the casual viewer, this may be a jarring experience initially, especially for those who were alive at the time of the shooting. Maitland's decision to present the material as a live action/animated hybrid is essential to not only Tower's triumphant message of courage and humanity, but also serves as a source of artistic reflection, as Maitland’s decision to use the technique eliminated the need for reenactments on the campus. 

Outside of the memories of the survivors, history leaves the future mysteries hidden in photographic evidence. Tower walks these pictures off the celluloid and into the mind as the animation allows the story to follow each character throughout the duration of the incident, presenting a kaleidoscope of fight or flight possibilities. A pregnant woman lies still, feigning death for over an hour while another woman lies beside her, refusing to abandon the wounded mother to be. Private citizens bring arms to bear against the sniper to an array of results and a trio of scared, but undeniably brave men enter a the sniper's nest for a showdown with death. 

This is the essence of Tower. It makes no political statements and points no fingers. It is a snapshot of life, an hour and change of a nightmare as told through the memories of the living and the testaments of the dead. The final act departs from the rigid focus of the setup, wrapping up various vignettes in an effort to give purpose and closure to the happenings and this abandonment of intensity is both a welcomed reprieve and a slightly disappointing cliché'. However, as a sum of its parts, Tower succeeds in its goal of putting the viewer into harm's way by constructing a world within a world, an animated memory of darkness that leaves the viewer exhausted and relieved upon its conclusion. 

Available now on Netflix, Tower is a brilliant documentary with a simple approach to the unthinkable. Feature haunting visual compositions interlaced with candid and often inspiring survivor accounts, this is a remarkable film that shines a light beyond the monster and into the heart of bravery and community, an endearing reminder that the perpetrator's mission of fear and division is always overcome by selflessness and compassion.

Share this review.

-Kyle Jonathan