Tower (Keith Maitland, 2016)


Approaching the subject of one of the first mass shootings in American history is by nature a tricky undertaking. In the case of the UT Austin clock tower shooting, it seems even more so; compared to other, more recent shootings, which usually take place in confined spaces like a movie theater, a club, or a school campus, this one took place in the wide expanses of downtown Austin, where no one seemed safe during the prolonged, two-hour standoff. So Keith Maitland’s approach comes as somewhat of a surprise: instead of seeking to paint a comprehensive portrait of this shocking day, it is a story primarily in anecdotes, from people who in all likelihood would only connect in events as shattering as this.

The most striking aspect is, undoubtedly, the almost entirely rotoscoped aesthetic of Tower. It almost purposefully eschews photorealism for a more impressionistic, almost faded effect, exaggerating the expressions and emphasizing the details, like the beads of sweat in the summer Texan heat or the sudden flashes of light from bullets on the sides of buildings. Even more radical is the mixing of archival footage with this animation. Particularly in the opening—before the shooting occurs—Maitland splices in animation interacting directly with the footage, the bright colors of the cars pulling up to the curb or people walking through the UT campus contrasting with the monochrome photography. But after the shooting happens, in an admittedly spurious but incredibly effective creative choice, the colors bleed out of the animation. Each person gets their own “loss of innocence” moment as they learn about the shooting (no matter how far it is into the actual events), and crucially the color never returns after the fact; when recalling certain memories the color returns to only further accentuate this point.

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