KIM NEWMAN’S VIDEO DUNGEON
Sorting the wheat from the chaff of straight-to-dtv films for almost 20 years
The Break-out: Tower
On 1 August 1966, ex-marine Charles Whitman took up position on top of the clock-tower at the university Of texas in Austin with a small arsenal, and began shooting. In this powerfully evocative documentary, director Keith Maitland recreates the 96 minutes of horror through Waking Life-style rotoscope animation. Key survivors are interviewed, but appear on screen as cartoon versions of who they were then, with stunning moments late in the film as Maitland cuts to footage of them now. Blackand-white bleeds into colour as memories become more real, and there’s great use made of contemporary music and the relentless crack of shots.
It’s a feat to make a heartwarming film about mass murder, but this delivers truly moving moments — as a kid and his cousin, who were shot off their bikes, reunite 50 years on, stressed to relive the trauma but delighted to see each other; or the moment which brings together Claire Wilson, who was pregnant when she was shot and lay on the baking-hot ground, and John ‘Artly Snuff’ Fox, the chess-playing teen who dragged her to safety and still feels guilty he didn’t do it sooner. Claire’s story includes the remarkable intervention of a girl, rita Star Pattern, who lay down with her in open sight of the killer to offer comfort. there have been so many films about killers that it’s a revelation that Whitman is of so little interest to Maitland. He never shows his face (until Claire shows a LIFE magazine feature with a photo of him aged three), rarely uses his name and keeps him up in the tower to concentrate on what matters: the people who were hurt or killed or had to do their job.