Tower (2016)

TV-14   |    |  Documentary, Animation, Crime

Tower (2016) Poster

Animation, testimony, and archival footage combine to relate the events of August 1, 1966 when a gunman opened fire from the University of Texas clock tower, killing 16 people.




  • Tower (2016)
  • Tower (2016)
  • Tower (2016)
  • Tower (2016)
  • Josephine McAdam & Violett Beane on set of "TOWER"
  • Tower (2016)

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22 April 2016 | dmgreer
| Beautiully told first person account of survival and courage
I cried three or four times, maybe five times while watching Tower.

Told with a combination of still photos, grainy 8mm film footage from the incident itself, and rotoscopic animation, it begins in the middle, with the radio announcement some tens of minutes into the incident, lingering only briefly to set the mood.

Then it switches to Claire talking about just before things started happening. The actress playing Claire is rotoscoped, which is an animation technique that looks both real and animated at the same time, because it's like tracing over the actual images. It's a good technique for this type of documentary, because at once it distances you from the actor, yet brings you closer to the person the actor is portraying, and of the age they were when the events took place.

In this way the actors explain things using the words of the real person who was being interviewed, and they also appear as characters in the re-enactment of the events. Because it's rotoscopy, the emotions of the actors carry over and you're able to relate to their feelings. The rotoscopy also enables the director to place people in the Mall without them actually being there, so there was no need to clear the Mall or to ask for permission to film. And it allows for a special touch when Claire tells of her fiancé.

Claire Wilson is the anchor of the story, having been the first one known shot, and also having been 8 months pregnant at the time. She lay out on the concrete of the Mall in front of the tower for over an hour in the August heat, her dead fiancé beside her, helped only by Rita Starpattern, who ran out to help despite the continued sniping.

Other main stories are of the two policemen who killed the sniper, a citizen who helped them, another policeman who went to help at the top of the tower, a freshman with his own story of heroism, a paperboy who was shot, the radio announcer who narrated and warned of the events, and a young woman who only watched.

Rita Starpattern appears only through Claire's narrative, because she died of cancer before anyone interviewed her. Some of the others had been interviewed before they died, and a few more, including Claire, were interviewed for the documentary.

The last part of the film is inter cut with the interviews of the real people whose avatars have been narrating the action. By saying Claire is the anchor, I don't mean to discount the contributions of the others, most of whom performed heroically in a desperate situation.

The sound of the movie is evocative, with music from the time, announcements on the radio, the cicadas of Summer, and of course the incessant gunfire.

I saw the film at the Dallas International Film Festival, so the director was there to answer questions at the end. Answers I recall were that the sniper, who does not appear in the film, made a midnight call on his music teacher, saying that he was very upset and needed to talk. He sat down at the piano and played Claire de Lune, and then said that was what he needed, and left.

Another was that Rita Starpattern never spoke of her actions that day. He said many people in Austin, where she had lived, gasped when they saw her name.

One man in the audience said he knew the sniper's CO in the Marines, who said that the sniper was very much into his role as a killer, and looked forward to being able to kill people legally.

It's odd to think of something that happened in one's own lifetime as a period piece, but younger viewers will understand more of what life was like before ubiquitous global communication. After the shooting, everyone involved lost contact with each other, something unimaginable today. A local radio announcer was the sole contact for news, and also served to warn people about what was going on. At least there were home phones, radio, TV, and 8mm cameras, so I guess it wasn't that primitive.

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