JFK ASSASSINATION

The Zapruder Film

Probably the most remarkable piece of evidence of the assassination, if not of any murder, is the Zapruder film, which captured the entire assassination sequence on high-quality, 8mm, colour movie film. Although so much has happened to this film and so much controversy has been aroused by it, a recent digital transferral and publication of the film has made available to all a detailed and revealing insight into its value as evidence in the assassination story.

Ref: Image of an Assassination - A New Look at the Zapruder Film, MPI Teleproductions

Abraham Zapruder was a Dallas clothes manufacturer who worked near to Dealey Plaza in 1963 and who, together with his secretary, decided to view the motorcade as it passed. After arriving at Dealey Plaza his secretary sent him back to the office to collect his new Bell & Howell 8mm movie camera and having returned they both took up a significant vantage point on the pergola on the north side of Elm Street. It was from here that Zapruder filmed the motorcade as it passed and caught the complete sequence from when the President was first struck, through to the final head shot, the panicked attempt of Jackie Kennedy to climb on to the back of the car and her body guard, Clint Hill, rushing up from behind to climb on the back of the car as it sped away towards the Stemmons Freeway and on to Parkland Hospital.

The film, now rendered in all its detail and original quality on DVD, and published with the full width of the exposed film, including the sprocket holes, reveals so much. Apart from the brief period when the President is concealed by the Stemmons Freeway sign, just after or at the point Kennedy is first struck, he is in the frame throughout. Furthermore, Governor Connally too can be seen sitting in front of Kennedy, turning to his right as he hears the first shot which has clearly injured Kennedy in the throat. This alone makes the single bullet theory significantly less plausible, but it is also possible to see Connally himself hit, just after his movement to his right, subsequently falling to his left into the lap of his wife, Nelly. A sequence substantiated by Connally’s own version of events.

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Images taken from the Zapruder film. As Kennedy emerges from the Stemmons Freeway sign he is clearly injured. At this point, the first shot has hit him in the back, the bullet exiting from his throat. In the second image, Connally in the jump seat in front, has turned to his right to look in the direction of the shots and it can be seen by close examination of the film that it is about this time that he too is hit, some time after the shot that has hit the President. The final frame shows Mrs Kennedy trying to climb on to the trunk of the car, some believe to retrieve something, but it could have been in panic.

A short delay and Kennedy is hit in the head. A dramatic and disturbing image showing his head explode in a shower of blood, brain tissue and skull fragments. Significantly though, his head is thrown violently backwards and to his left, entirely inconsistent with a shot fired from the Book Depository building, which at this time is behind him and to his right, but consistent with a shot fired from the Grassy Knoll, ahead and to his right.

The Zapruder film is also critical as it sets the timing sequence of the assassination, and shows clearly the first shot having hit Kennedy no sooner than the point where he disappears behind the Stemmons Freeway sign, and the last shot being the head shot. Given the known film speed, the total time between all the shots is then calculated to be no more than 5.3 seconds. Indeed the timing is so well defined by the film, the frames of the Zapruder film are used as the timing reference throughout the Warren Report.

Despite the fact that the Zapruder film was probably the most significant single piece of evidence in the assassination, it was in fact acquired on the 22nd November by the Time-Life organisation, by firstly paying Zapruder a fee for the rights to use the film, and later increasing their payment to him for making their rights exclusive. Thereafter, apart from one or two occasions when they published selected frames, they never used the film, and certainly not in its entirety, allegedly because of the shocking nature of the content. Although the Warren Commission did include every frame of the film in the exhibits, they certainly did not use it as pivotally in their deliberations as perhaps they should have. It did not see the light of day as such until 1967 when Jim Garrison subpoenaed it as evidence in the trial of Clay Shaw.

The recent publication of the Zapruder film in all its detail has laid to rest some of the rumours regarding its authenticity. Many speculate that the film has been extensively modified and various detailed studies have indicated how and where it must have been changed by reference to certain features in the film, such as the position of the driver viewed from frame to frame. Some claim the film to have been selectively edited, some claim it shows that the car was deliberately slowed at the point of the head shot, which is relatively easy to see anyway, some claim it to have been modified generally to support the Warren Commission version of events.

Although it is clear that the original film was damaged slightly by mishandling by a Time-Life technician, the evidence of extensive alteration is thin. This is especially true as the recent published version shows the entire width of the film, including the sprocket holes, which in this model of camera was also exposed. Furthermore, if the film had been altered to support the Warren Commission version of events, then it failed almost entirely in that respect.

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