Tower is one of the most original and effective documentaries I have ever seen. It even takes the now-familiar ingredient of animation as a storytelling tool and gives it an unexpected twist.

Texas-raised filmmaker Keith Maitland wanted to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of an incident that was unthinkable in its time. On August 1, 1966, a young man climbed to the top of the bell tower overlooking the University of Texas campus in Austin and opened fire on dozens of innocent people. This horrifying and unexplainable incident made a lasting mark on everyone who was there that day: students, victims, reporters, eyewitnesses, and passers-by. None of them will ever forget that hellish lunchtime when time seemed to stand still. Some still bear emotional scars from that event.

Out of this drama, Maitland has crafted a galvanizing film, combining first-hand interviews with TV news footage and snapshots. It is only toward the end of the film that he shows us the real people who have been telling their stories in animated form…and in so doing, reveals his sleight-of-hand. We’ve been watching “eyewitnesses” who were frozen in time from 1966: the words are theirs but they have been spoken by young actors.

As past and present begin to merge, the emotional power of the film rises to a crescendo. I don’t want to describe any more, except to say that the movie left me shattered. Needless to say, it is also timely and relevant. Whether we’re talking about fictional filmmaking or documentaries, Tower is one of the best films of the year.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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June 2024