America’s first mass shooting is sadly still relevant

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Opens November 7
Broadway Theatre

A gripping mix of animation and archive material, Tower is an oral recount of the events in Austin in 1966, in which 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, a considerable achievement given that the outcome has been documented for 50 years. Thanks to abundant footage (the shooting lasted over an hour and a half, allowing considerable news coverage), director Keith Maitland reconstructs the entire standoff. Every time there isn’t a visual referent, the blank space is filled with animation — a strategy that translates into growing tension and unease while keeping luridness at bay.

The film is anchored by a pregnant woman who was shot early on and left bleeding in plain sight. Nobody could approach her as the sniper would have had a clean shot of any good Samaritans. While all nine POVs in Tower 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.

The parallels between the events from 50 years ago and today’s mass shootings are not 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 favorite argument for open carry laws.