This documentary has an unusual feel to it.
It's partially animated, in rotoscope.
Other parts include grainy 8 mm film of the event itself,
archival footage from the era, still photos, and interviews from
participants many years later. We
see their faces interspersed with the animated rotoscope images of
themselves as much younger, with voiceover actors using the
participants' own words to describe their long-ago experiences.
Yes, it's about the tragic incident at the University of Texas
tower on August 1, 1966, when Charles Whitman got on the 27th
floor observation deck with a high-powered rifle and just randomly
started shooting people. 90
minutes later, he'd killed 14 people and wounded 32 others, before a
couple of Austin cops, accompanied by a passerby civilian, stormed the
observation deck and took out Charles Whitman.
Director Keith Maitland tells the story from the point of view
of the survivors, many of whom he was able to locate and interview.
The most poignant account was that of Claire Wilson (the voice
of Violett Beane), who was eight months pregnant at the time, walking
with her fiancee (who was not the baby's father, we later learn) out
of the student commons, when suddenly she is shot and falls to the
ground. When her fiancee
tries to help her, he, too, is shot, and falls down dead beside her.
She's still alive, but fears that her wound has affected her
baby (her fears were justified; the baby died in vitro). She's also
panicked and helpless, lying on the hot asphalt (a typical 100-degree
August day in Austin). A compassionate passerby by the name of Rita
Starpattern (Josephine McAdam) crawls up to her and offers her
encouragement, even while the shooter is still taking out targets.
Since it was the first mass shooting in recent memory, people
literally did not know what was happening.
Some failed to run for cover fast enough.
Others felt that should have done something but realized they
did not want to put themselves in the line of fire.
Still others heroically went out and rescued Claire Wilson,
carrying her to safety. The
local police who wound up being involved of course had no idea when
they went to work that day that they would be called upon to confront
the killer themselves.
Director Maitland manages to capture some real emotion from the
participants, even all these years later.
It was an age 'way before social networking, and personal
publicity was limited. In
fact, Rita Starpattern died of cancer some years ago, and apparently
no one who knew her ever heard her say anything about the Tower
shooting, or her role in it.
The cinematography is really unique, and well worth the visit.
Even though there's no attempt to analyze the life of the
shooter, or his motivation, the movie captures the chaos and the
pathos which he lamentably created in those fateful 90 minutes of
August 1, 1966.