As a British man, it’s hard not to feel a sense of bafflement when I look at the American reaction to school shootings. And yes, I’m aware of the dispute between those who support gun control and those who support gun freedoms. But, over and over again, children of all ages seem to die and nothing seems to be done.
It became even more confusing when I realised that when the U.K had its first school shooting in 1996, drastic measures were taken to protect our children and, as a result, we haven’t had a school shooting since.
I bring this up only because Tower is a fitting reminder as to how few steps America has taken in its pursuit of protecting its children from gun violence.
Tower covers the real life shooting that took place over 96 minutes on the University of Texas campus in the summer of 1966. With 14 people killed it was considered the deadliest shooting on a U.S. college campus until the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007. Following a blend of talking heads and animated reconstructions, the film explores that life changing hour and a half from the point of view of victims and witnesses.
The tense mood is immediately established as we open on a reporter driving through the streets warning everyone to stay away from the university. Why?
Because a sniper is “firing at will.”
We’re soon introduced to several of the shooting victims such as 18-year-old (and pregnant) Claire Wilson and teenage paperboy Aleck Hernandez. Both their stories are just two of the several people that were caught up in the horrific situation to come.
Director Keith Maitland cuts together real newsreel and camcorder footage along with some newly filmed reconstructions. But what’s interesting is that Maitland has taken these reconstructions and rotoscoped them.
The decision to mix in rotoscope animation is an interesting decision. Though at first I did wonder why, after a while I realised the intimacy of some of the shots are so unique that it would have been almost impossible to pull off in live action. To this end it’s hard not to be reminded of the excellent and similar work done in 2008’s Waltz With Bashir; and Tower more than deserves to be mentioned in the same breath.
The use of animation eventually becomes a stroke of genius as, when it finally falls away, it reveals the real people as they currently exist in the modern day; and truly helps us understand how lifelong these physical and emotional wounds really were.
As a documentary there is an argument to be made that maybe some screen time should be granted to exploring the mindset of the perpetrator. But I see no need to criticise the film in deciding to keep that exploration to a minimum, instead preferring to focus on the victims.
Tower ends up being a fascinating and chilling documentary and, even 50 years later, is a sorely needed reminder of how much tragedy gun violence has delivered into the arms of the innocent.