Director: Keith Maitland/2016

Street Date: March 21, 2017/Kino Lorber

One of the most horrific school shootings took place 50 years on the campus of The University of Texas in Austin.  It was on that day that Charles Whitman ascended the elevator and stairs to the observatory deck of the University clock tower and began a 96 minute reign of terror shooting people with a sniper rifle.  17 people died that day, and many more were wounded.  But while Charles Whitman was the name behind the evil, there were countless numbers of heroes that stood up that day.  In addition to the victims, there were brave members of the police force, news media, business employees, and fellow students, all of whom helped to stop this man’s rampage of death.  Countless other members of the community donated blood, brought meals, and did whatever it took to pull together as a community.

Kino Lorber has now released the film on BluRay and the result is one of increased clarity and a host of extras to bring you more into the events of that summer day.

Last year, the documentary Tower was released to coincide with the 50th Anniversary of the University of Texas sniper shooting on August 1, 1966.  I reviewed the film for its theatrical release (which you can read here), and said the following about its technique and approach:

This documentary is very unique.  Not only does it use first person interviews, and archived film from the actual events, but it also uses an animated format called rotoscopic animation to put the audience directly into the events themselves.  This was very unique and really brought the events to life.  Basically actors, who look like the 1960’s version of the actual people being interviewed today, are animated in a style similar to A Scanner Darkly.  It gives you the look of actual people, but it allows the filmmaker to re-enact the events based on the first person testimony of the actual people, and then incorporate traditional animation to show things like bullet strikes on people and buildings, all the while maintaining the documentary format.

The actors used to create this animation look are also narrating these sections using the actual recorded testimony provided by the people who were there, though now in the younger voice to give you the feel of hearing the testimony as it was fresh 50 years ago.  Later, the film will cut from this animated testimony re-enactments to the more recent interviews with the actual people and we will hear the voice change as well as see the individuals age from the animated 1960’s version of themselves to the more recent footage.  It helps to create a seamless transition across these 50 years much like a traditional bio-pic might by casting actors to play the same character at different ages, but here you are still hearing and seeing the very words from the real people in the events.  This is such an interesting way to approach a film like this, and I think the director pulled it off.

Kino Lorber has now released the film on BluRay and the result is one of increased clarity and a host of extras to bring you more into the events of that summer day. The process of the animation that was used to recreate these events is examined and the BluRay also features many interviews of both the modern day actors, and when possible, the original individuals who unwillingly participated in the events that transpired on that fateful August day.  The packaging is quite simple and effective featuring the rotoscopic animation and many of the accolades the film has received from various festivals.

The “After the Screening Q&A” that took place at the SXSW festival inside the Bullock Texas State History Museum is especially fascinating as you see assembled the director, the many producers, including Pamela Colloff, who wrote the article 96 Minutes for Texas Monthly that inspired the making of this documentary.   Also, in attendance were several of the victims and heroes of that day, or for those who have since died, their family members.

There are several short features that concern the “Behind the Scenes: Animation Process” documenting some of the ways they used the animation in the film, but also the actors used to read the actual testimonies and sit in for the animation process to create the look of the real people 50 years before.  We then get a side by side of the 1966 version of the original individual and the 2016 actor to see how similar they truly look which adds to the current, and fresh feel of this documentary.

There are character profiles of all of the main heroes featured in the film, as well as a couple of their offspring to show the legacy that an event such as this has across generations.  Some of the insights provided show the true effect of a school shooting event and the toll it has, including PTSD, and how that is picked up on by the children of the individuals experiencing it.

Finally, there is an additional scene that shows the 2016 Memorial Dedication event where a small stone monument was placed on the student mall in the Tower Garden and survivors and families of those killed gathered to dedicate this memorial.  It was a moving event and I am glad that it is included for this release.

The film is in color and black & white, with animation, and new and archival footage.  It is in English, with optional English SDH Subtitles, and it is offered in 5.1 Surround and 2.0 Stereo sound.  The film is 1.78:1, and 1920x1080p.

The images in this review are not representative of the actual Blu-ray’s image quality, and are included only to represent the film itself.