The significance of archives such as the Texas Archive of the Moving Image is grounded in practical matters. Preservation of the images. Cataloging of the images in a manner that enhances the raw data on film and videotape. Access to the images for those who wish to compile or otherwise make use of portions of them. But I suggest that the true power of such an archive, the power that draws the viewer, the compiler, even the cataloguer is rooted in emotion, in the evocation of memory or the provocation of the need for better, more, truer memory. I have selected one of, if not the most famous sequence of moving images from the archive. It is part of a collection that contains other perspectives on the events that took place on August 1, 1966, the day that Charles Whitman made his way to the top of the Texas Tower, took aim, and killed 15 people and wounded 33 more.
Because I had family members in Texas the pictures and reports were shocking and terrifying, even as I viewed them that day in Chicago on the national news. Later, when I moved to Austin to teach at the University, some of my close friends were among those who were on the plaza that day, who had helped pull the wounded to relative safety. For viewers in my generation and perhaps some younger and older, walking beneath the Tower often leads to the eruption of memory, not only for those were there but for those who experienced the events in news reports far away.
This clip is perhaps the result of failed technology, or perhaps merely of fear. There is no recorded sound track. There are no words, no yells, no screams. The only sounds are of flaws, scratches on the track or perhaps editing splices. Yet those sounds are similar to those of gunshots. Not the explosive Hollywood thrills of what might pass for the “real” sounds of contemporary weaponry. Just the pop, pop, pop of a high-powered rifle. Just the pop, pops that randomly occur over scenes of people falling, people scurrying, people crouching along to help the fallen. These are rough, raw images. In our time, when we have seen so much recorded terror, they are often most useful when they rip into raw memories. The artifact in the vault, on the disk, on the film or tape opens the archive in the mind. My memory created the sound of gunfire. Charles Whitman killed fifteen people. This is why we keep images.