The Bar Fly
Tower, Dark Night and Adapting Mass Tragedy
For filmmakers looking to adapt stories of immense sorrow, fictional and/or especially real, sensitivity is an important trait to hold. We all have our own personal baggage, our own moments of drama, that we bring with us everywhere, even to the movie theater – a forum of near neutral and always “universal” empathy. So, when movies inevitably get around to showing something that triggers a memory – collective or specific – it better do well by us. It better not exploit, it better not manipulate. It better reach for something greater.
The following column will cover two films that deal with mass shootings in America. In my catalogue, there are reel tales like The Dirties and Zero Day that use mockumentary and found footage styles to creatively attempt to connect us with the troubled persons involved. It’s hard to try and answer the why behind the events, and to determine if why is the important question to be asking/answering. Nevertheless, the common thread with this topic is to explain the reasoning behind the madness, rather than expose and espouse the humanity or lack thereof before, surrounding and after. In times like this, profound heart may be better than dark revelation.
I was in middle school when Columbine occurred. I heard all the rumors and speculation of copycats and such. I was even targeted as a potential “troubled” for a class video project I made. Still, this subject matter is beyond me. Probably beyond all of us, even. But, if anything is worth tackling, it’s this.
- Monday, Monday
It’s a shame that we don’t see rotoscope animated films more often. Tower, an inventive reenactment / documentary / procedural of Charles Whitman’s 1966 sniper shootings at the University of Texas in Austin, utilizes this sprucing up of live action elements with superimposed cartoon elements in a most evocative manner. I’ve often said and written that, for some reason, animated movies can bring out deeper feelings much more easily than live action. According to its wikipedia page, the filmmaker recorded his actors in a backyard, and planted their images onto a digital college campus setting. This disconnect from a more tangible environment and, to an extent, from the decades ago incident, is not lost on me or audiences. Hindsight, whether conscious or sensory, allows for some grace and separation, granting some clarity. Wounds don’t always heal with time, but occasionally an understanding and balance forms.
While Tower centers entirely on the victims and witnesses involved, it is one person’s perspective that encapsulates all. She was a pregnant young woman in love, lying beside her boyfriend under the hot Texan sun, both with severe bullet wounds. In horrifying detail, her visage of the moment recounts the minutes of losing blood on the unforgiving concrete, with her now deceased lover, not knowing when the next shot may be fired, or if help will ever come. Almost every other person in the area sees her, uncertain of what to do or when. Through her trial, we learn just what others are truly made of. Some cowered, some rushed to assist. Some climbed stairs to end the terror. It’s staggering, to see souls laid bare in such circumstances.
Why and how is it in the worst of moments we see the true nature of people? You’d think the opposite would be true, as the opposite is easier. But, of course, nothing worth doing is ever truly easy. And if it were, the rewards wouldn’t be as grand. Tower is about this very thing. Goodness, bravery, hope, and yes, even forgiveness are explored in this timely film of wide-ranging emotions. It doesn’t bother with why, but rather who – who are we, when the chips are down? The answer may be tough and haunting, but tomorrow IS, after all, another day.
- Dawn is Coming
Few movies open with such a statement as Dark Night does. We see lights flickering in the eyes of a girl, and hear sounds that suggest action. The way her eyes stare indicate she is watching something unfold. Is this a movie theater? Yes, but she’s not watching a movie, but police cars in the parking lot. Dark Night is a collage inspired by the Colorado cinema mass shooting on the night The Dark Knight Rises premiered. It is not a documentary or reenactment, but more a meditative crystal ball. Our past, present, and future is drawn with violence, and anything / everyone is part of it, knowingly or not.
Mostly nameless characters go about daily routines prior to converging on a film screening in their suburb. Local skateboard punks, wannabe actresses, awkward kids, and those withdrawn in general make up the cast, and their behaviors and settings suggest a truth not easily understood or wanting to be accepted: Anyone is capable of murder. Anyone. These are people ready to crack under pressure, and fall off the edge. These are our neighbors and colleagues. Friends and family. Through voyeuristically told yet cinematically framed sequences, we peer not so much into minds but into spirits of these walking ghosts. In this world (and ours), it’s plausible for a war veteran to walk in on an Alex Jones show on TV in the background, or for a shy young adult to eat cookies, given to him from an ambivalent and apathetic family member, with a picture of Ronald Reagan behind.
Dark Night observes and reports on the why beneath it all, but clearly has an answer in mind, being that it takes a village to make a killer. We are responsible for ourselves and each other. How we treat ourselves and others matter more than we’ll ever really know. It’s a thesis I can certainly get with, but had Dark Night been more attached to those it followed around town, perhaps a stronger relation with us all would’ve been made. It’s an explanation we’ve all heard repeated, done up in stirring and scary disassociation, but Dark Night falters in this way, and honestly could’ve ridden this Bubble (Soderbergh) like aesthetic to a perfect finish had the answer not been as obvious or depressingly expressed. I suspect Larry Clark (Kids) would have something to say about this film, perhaps in a commentary track? Dark Night stands as above nihilism, but just under pure resonance, satisfied with peering from far away. Somehow, that behavior is scarier. And yet, somehow, while never comforting, is answer enough. An all too final answer.
Tower – A Toast
Dark Night – A Toast and a shot