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Laramie Movie Scope: Tower

A multimedia look at a historic mass murder

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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November 25, 2016 -- This mixed media movie about the August 1, 1966 mass murder in Austin Texas combines historical photos, video, film along with animated recreations of this infamous event, as told by eyewitnesses. It is a “semi-documentary” that covers some, but not all important aspects of this event.

The film uses animations, combined with the voices of actors, to depict events of that day at University of Texas at Austin as ex-Marine Charles J. Whitman shot 46 people that day, 14 died. The toll would eventually reach 17 dead, including an unborn child and a man who died later of complications from his wounds.

The killer, Whitman, is not seen in the depiction of the shootings. Some of the actual people who were there that day do appear in the film as they are now, as well as how they looked 50 years ago in archival video, audio and film. Some people in the film, of course, have died since then.

Rotoscopic animation is used in many scenes to depict what happened during the shootings. This was done to save money, but it is a surprisingly effective way to depict events and participants as they appeared then, combined with younger actors to recreate their voices as they might have sounded then.

For the most part, events are depicted in chronological order, from the first shootings, to the end of the event, when two policemen kill Whitman near the top of the 300-foot tower at the center of campus. The first shots hit Claire Wilson, who was eight months pregnant, and Thomas Eckman. Eckman was killed, as was Wilson's unborn child, but she lay wounded on the hot sidewalk for a long time, thinking she would die there. The air temperature was over 100 degrees that hot afternoon. A young woman, Rita Starpattern, came to Wilson's aid and comforted Wilson, becoming a possible target herself in the process.

A boy on a bicycle, Aleck Hernandez, was among those first shot. Allen Crum came across the street to help him. Crum would eventually work his way into the tower. Crum ended up at the top of the tower with police to help with the final assault on Whitman. The dramatic rescue of those wounded in the line of fire is also depicted in the film.

The film tells the stories of the heroes of that day, and the bystanders who admit they were too scared to do anything to help the wounded. The film also shows how local radio reporters and police were called to the scene. The film tells how, in one heartbreaking moment, a veteran newsman finds out that his own grandson is one of those killed by the tower sniper.

This film does a good job recreating the events of that day from the viewpoint of those who were there, students, bystanders, victims, police and reporters. The film tries to put this event into the context of the mass murders that have followed this, but there is an important difference that the film neglects to mention.

Charles Whitman, the killer, left a suicide note, asking that an autopsy be performed on his body to determine if there was a brain anomaly that caused his behavior. He had sought help from five doctors in the months leading up to his murder spree. Whitman complained of severe headaches and felt there was something wrong with his mind because he was having “... many unusual and irrational thoughts.”

The results of the autopsy were unusual enough that Governor John Connally commissioned a task force to review the findings. A tumor was found in Whitman's brain, between his thalamus, hypothalamus and amygdala. Pressure from this tumor may have influenced his behavior. That fact makes this case unusual, if not unique. At least Whitman's medical condition is something that should be kept in mind when comparing the Texas Tower killings to other cases of mass murder in the years since.

Other than that omission, this film effectively recreates events of the Texas Tower killings from the point of view of witnesses. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2016 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)