Documentary : Tower


Tower (2016) / Keith Maitland. I was home from college at my parent's house in San Antonio, Texas on August 1, 1966. I always made it a point to be home at 1:00 p.m. because the local TV channel was re-running "The Fugitive" every week day and I had become hooked on the series. But when I turned on the set, all I could find on any channel was the news from Austin, about 80 miles north. A sniper with a high-powered rifle had barricaded himself on the 27th floor observation deck of the University of Texas main building tower and was shooting people. Watching this unfold practically in my back yard is one of my strongest memories of those years. “Tower” recreates that day from the point of view of the people on the ground. It opens almost at the moment of the first shot fired from the tower with no backstory or tracking of the gunman to that point. Except for two archival clips of news coverage from 1966 coming at the end of the movie, the killer’s name is never even mentioned, a practice I will continue in this review. The recreation of events is done by rotoscope animation with actors portraying victims and participants, using their own words from interviews, both from the past as well as new for this feature. This is backed-up by newsreel and interview footage. The first shot fired that day struck Claire Wilson, eight months pregnant, who walking with her boyfriend Tom Eckman. They had just left the main building and were crossing a plaza with their backs to the tower when Claire was hit by a force that knocked her to the ground. As Eckman moved forward asking what had happened, he was shot in the back of the head, dying instantly. As Claire lay on the 110-degree concrete (it was summer in Texas), unable to move, she felt her life slowly slipping away. Helpless in open, easy range of the sniper, it was a tremendous risk for anyone to go to her aid. As the sniper kept shooting and the number of dead and wounded began to climb into – for the time – unbelievable numbers, a few people felt a reckless courage and risked their lives for others. The sniper killed 16 (including his mother and wife from the night before and Claire’s unborn baby) and wounded 32. “Tower” is a total immersive experience in this tragedy, putting the audience in the middle of the fear and danger and making us witness to some amazing, everyday heroes, who did what has to be done and then went home without acclaim or medals or an invitation to the White House. One of these amazing individuals is Rita Starpattern, the red-haired woman seen running toward Claire Wilson in the poster art Rita was an early feminist advocate who was a well-known character around Austin. She died of cancer in 1996. Many of her friends and acquaintances were surprised to see her portrayed in “Tower.” They never knew about what she did that day. She didn’t talk about it. She kept it private. That’s my kind of hero. This is a tremendously moving, emotional, and effective film. One of the best of the year, documentary or otherwise.

Trust me. I’m The Doctor.