Needing the Other

Animation and live action, getting along – or not.

Keith Maitland, 2016
Genre: historical recollective, animated

Tower is the film-of-the-month at Docalogue, where there are two good short reflections on the film. An account of a 1966 sniper shooting at the University of Texas campus, Tower uses rotoscoped interviews and After Effects animation for historical recreation, combing both with photographed archival material and videoed, live-action interviews.

One strategy that struck me was the superimposition of animated and photographic material. In this way, Tower highlights its animated-ness and artificiality, while drawing on the frisson of the indexical to bolster the argumentative power of its animation.

Bella Honess Roe makes a good case that the animation techniques and animation-live action hybrid express the film’s theme of historical trauma and personal closure. Her final comment captures much of my personal reaction to the film:

As is often the case in animated documentary, a final recourse to reality seems to be required to remind us that this was “really real.” For all animation’s immersive possibilities, this suggests that indexical witnessing is what is required to pack the final punch.

Certainly the documentary moves from the animated to the “real” and interpellates a spectator who craves the real people of the event. But what surprised me is who much more I responded to the real interviewees than to the animated interviews. Even more than the image, it was the voice that was so affecting. The voice actors are good in Tower, but the accent and texture of the actual victims and witnesses to the event add a layer missing in the acting.

Incidentally, Tower is a film that only partly fits what I would consider a festival documentary. It played at film festivals, including SxSW and Karlovy Vary, but its circulation has extended well beyond the festival circuit, to theatrical and home-video release. Animation is an important tool for an increasing number of festival documentaries, but it’s also standard for popular documentaries, too. And, yes, I’m being schematic with the festival/popular labels but there is a difference in how these films circulate and their corresponding aesthetics.