Keith Maitland’s Tower may not be the most effective film, as the mix of rotoscope animation (think Richard Linklater’s Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly), grainy news footage and recreations slightly muddle the experience.
However, the film certainly qualifies as one of the most ambitious of this year, and what it lacks in immediate impact, it certainly makes up for in talking points. The film captures an event from 1966, and yet feels exceptionally modern and finds relevance in the past to relate to a very uncertain present.
That the event captures is a mass shooting, particularly one that takes places at a place of high learning, (The University of Texas at Austin), makes the film seem like it’s not entirely about this one event. And indeed, the film and Maitland’s focus does not seem to capture the shooter, (Charles Whitman), focusing instead on the victims.
Indeed, the subject itself of this particular mass shooting, despite being over fifty years old still may not be comfortable enough to approach. As such, the documentary feels somewhat removed (intentionally or not) from capturing the hideous tragedy of the event.
Perhaps the key moment of Tower comes near the end, as a montage of school shootings illustrates the eternal recurrence of terrible events such as this one. Though this may be the first mass shooting at a school, it is nowhere close to being the last one. The remove then feels chilling, as Maitland observes and recreates, rather than stepping in and perhaps interfering, in order to create an alternate sense of this reality.