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March 23, 2017


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Keith Maitland - 2016
Kino Lorber BD Region A

I originally saw Tower last November or December as one of the end of the year screeners I receive for awards consideration. The emotional impact was wrenching, enough so that I could not bring myself to view the film a second time. But I did see all of the extras. For those unfamiliar, the title refers to the tower at the University of Texas in Austin, where a sniper, Charles Whitman, shot fourteen people and wounding thirty-one others, on August 1, 1966. Seeing several of the survivors from add to the testimony is still a moving experience. The other reason for seeing the extras is for the Q & A session that followed the screening of Tower at the SXSW Festival in Austin.

Tower has been acclaimed as a documentary. The inspiration was from a magazine article from several witnesses and survivors. But the work brings up questions regarding what qualifies this as a documentary. Similar to Ari Folman's Waltz with Bashir from 2008, Maitland has chosen to recreate the past with animation. One of the extras in Tower shows this process, with staged, film re-enactments based on witness narratives, redone as animated images. Maitland states that he chose this method of presentation so that the film would connect better with a younger audience. What may be disputed is whether a film might still be considered a documentary if what is viewed are recreations of events, either by actors, or by animation, or a combination of the two techniques?

What also could be a point of contention is that Charles Whitman remains virtually unknown here, a killer with no known motivation. What Tower does not mention is that prior to planting himself on the tower, Whitman had murdered his wife and mother, grew up learning how to shoot, and had been cited for his marksmanship as a Marine. An autopsy of Whitman also indicated that he had a brain tumor, although whether that contributed to his emotional state at the time is only speculative. Even though the victims were people who were at the wrong place at the wrong time, Whitman's presence on the campus was not a random event. Also not mentioned is that Whitman was a student at the university.

What can not be denied is the power of Maitland's film, irrespective of some of the questions it may bring up. This was for me, one of the best film of last year, and very much worth seeing. I can't imagine anyone viewing Tower and not in some way being unmoved.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at March 23, 2017 08:17 AM