America’s first mass shooting is still relevant


Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

RPL Film Theatre
November 24-25
4 out of 5

A gripping mix of animation and archive material, Tower is an oral recount of the events in Austin, Texas in 1966 when a lone gunman killed 16 people and wounded over 30. It was arguably the first mass shooting in the U.S., and a harbinger of too many to come.

Tower is more effective and immediate than scripted thrillers, an achievement given that the outcome has been documented for 50 years, so there can’t really be any spoilers. Thanks to abundant footage (the shooting lasted over an hour and a half so there was a lot of news coverage), director Keith Maitland reconstructs the entire standoff. Every time there isn’t a visual reference, the blank space is filled with rotoscopic animation, which builds a hell of a lot of tension and unease while avoiding gruesome visuals.

The film is anchored by a pregnant woman who was shot early on and left bleeding in plain sight. Nobody could approach her, because the sniper would’ve had a clean shot at any good Samaritans. While all nine of Tower’s points-of-view are riveting, this one is the clincher. Other compelling perspectives are the lawman who, alongside a deputized citizen, managed to get to the tower; heroic students who brought the wounded to safety; and the news editor who tried to make sense of the events in real time while the entire country watched.

The shooter goes unnamed and his motivations are never acknowledged. Good.

Tower’s parallels between this 50-year-old massacre and today’s mass shootings aren’t lost on anybody: the “good guys with guns” who tried to take down the shooter ended up endangering those with the skills to do it successfully.

So much for the NRA’s favourite argument for open carry laws.