Tower review: Docs on the spot
There is a ghost that walks the campus at U.T. Austin. I remember walking on South Mall. Seeing the errant spackle on some of the buildings, and wondering. Running my finger along the divot in Jefferson's cape. Could these be markers? Could it be a trace. I didn't know. So much was left unsaid. The observation deck on the tower was still closed back then. Despite the passage of time, it is still remembered, left unspoken or maybe said, each time a someone opens fire at a school. It was that much of a shock. It wasn't until 2006 that the victims were memorialized in a garden near the tower. Apparently in 2016 they have also added a list of names. It is something, fifty years after the fact... but at least its something. Almost as if society doesn't speak, doesn't see, then we don't have to remember, or address... the horror that happened on August 1, 1966.
That was the day that Charles Witman took an arsenal of weapons, and from a perch on the 28th floor of the armed with an arsenal of weapons began to open fire. In a spree that lasted ninety-six minutes, fourteen innocents were killed and thirty-one wounded seemingly for little more than the crime of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe it is the absolute senselessness of the violence that makes many hesitate to remember.
Well then how did society confront the perplexing question of why? It should come as little surprise that most of the material that dealt with the
shootings focused on Whitman.
Peter Bogdonavich was the first person to design a film, Targets (1968) where the characters were based on the Tower shooting. In a made for TV movie, The Deadly Tower (Jameson, 1976), Whitman was played by a young Kurt Russell, while Kinky Freidman told his tale in the 1973 "The Ballad of Charles Whitman." Since then a Whitman and the scenario has appeared in several documentaries. Each of these works seemed to focus on a man gone seemingly mad, who was a destructive and chaotic element on a
community that was besieged by evil. Perhaps at the time, this focus on the chaotic character made sense. With Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, and Tojo all still fresh in the minds of their parents, young adults found their daily lives seemingly besieged by individuals of evil. Assassins like Harvey Oswald, those that took Malcolm X and the soon to be murders of Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. were all done by evil individual and men like Jim Jones and the "Jonestown massacre" seemed to maintain a focus on the individual.
So how then could one tell the story of the Tower? In his 2016 documentary "Tower," Keith Maitland took an novel and interesting approach: he heavily relied on animation. Teaming with the crew that animated A Scanner Darkly (Linklater, 2006) Maitland filmed actors, who read actual words taken from interviews with the person they are representing. At the beginning and occasionally during the film archival footage is intersparsed with the animation. An interesting approach.
I suppose you think that I will now say how much I loved each and every single moment of it. Truth be told... I didn't. Perhaps I am too much of a purist, but initially I was put off by the animation. Although the initial story is totally engrossing, like a tiny bug worming through my brain, the use of animation bothered me. It seemed to reinforce the fictonal approach to the subject. We were not hearing the real people, we were not seeing the real events. It did bother me, until the story progressed. The longer it played the more engrossed I became trapped by the focus of the film: the community. Indeed so submerged was I that when characters are revealed
at the end, I found myself being jarred back to reality. In wonderfully woven stories Maitland pulls no punches. One of the most pressing is the story of a students bound by nothing beyond their humanity that drew within themselves and were willing to risk all to come to the aid of fellow students simply because they were people.
Heroes including a student that found himself on campus because he heard something was going on and saving the life of a pregnant lady who had been shot. Or the story of a salesman across Guadalupe who was desperate to find a way to stop the horror. He finds himself deputized into the small force that climbed the Tower to subdue Whitman by any means necessary. Or perhaps the most beautiful story of a woman. Totally unknown by one of the victims who ran across the field of fire and laid on the ground to pretend she was wounded, merely to keep a victim alive or at least to let them know that they were not alone.
This is paired by interviews with others who were not so brave. Who sat back, who much to their later shame played it safe. But you have to have those that gave into fear, to display the bravery of those that did not. Indeed so much of the focus is on the 'victims', Charles Whitman is not discussed much at all. An interesting view that is worth a watch. Check out the trailer.
If the trailer was enough to interest you, for a limited time, you can find the documentary FOR FREE at Independent Lens at :http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/videos/tower/ .