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What happened to the Zapruder film?

What happened to the Zapruder film?

On November 22, 1963, Abraham Zapruder shot what has become the most famous home movie of all time: a chilling 26-second snippet of film depicting the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The Russian-born Zapruder was a clothing manufacturer whose office sat across the street from the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas. On the day of the assassination, he and some of his employees went to Dealey Plaza to get a glimpse of the presidential motorcade. As Kennedy’s limousine passed, Zapruder began filming with his 8mm Bell & Howell camera and inadvertently captured the most complete record of the president’s murder.

Knowing his footage might prove valuable in a government investigation, Zapruder developed the 486-frame film and screened it for the Secret Service the following day. He also met with a representative from Life Magazine and agreed to sell all rights to the footage for the sum of $150,000. Plagued by nightmares of the film’s gruesome content, Zapruder only allowed the magazine to publish photos of the assassination footage on the condition that it remove frame 313—the moment in which Kennedy is shot in the head. The infamous frame would remain excised from all public versions of the film until 1975, when it was shown for the first time on reporter Geraldo Rivera’s television show “Good Night America.”

Zapruder’s film has since served as a major piece of evidence for government investigators, amateur detectives and conspiracy theorists alike. In early 1964, the Warren Commission spent weeks examining the footage and conducting tests on Zapruder’s camera during its official investigation of the assassination. Zapruder died in 1970, but Life Magazine later sold the film back to his family in 1975 for the token sum of $1.00. The Zapruders went on to license the footage to several other sources, including filmmaker Oliver Stone, who used it in his 1991 film “JFK.” Stone’s film helped lead to the creation of the Assassination Records Review Board, which would later decide that the U.S. government should own all footage related to the Kennedy assassination. As a result, the Justice Department awarded the Zapruder family $16 million for the original print in 1999. That same year, the family donated all copyrights on the film to the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza.

JFK Assassination: How LIFE Brought the Zapruder Film to Light

Film still from Abraham Zapruder’s home movie of JFK’s assassination in Dallas, Nov. 22, 1963.

Zapruder Film © 1967 (renewed 1995) The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza

Written By: Ben Cosgrove

It’s unlikely that any 26 seconds of celluloid have ever been discussed and dissected as thoroughly as those captured by a 58-year-old amateur-film buff named Abraham Zapruder on the day John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas—in a movie known ever after as “the Zapruder film.” The jittery color sequence showing JFK’s motorcade moving through the sunlit Dallas streets, leading up to the shocking instant when a rifle bullet slams into the president’s head, remains one of the 20th century’s indispensable historical records.

It was LIFE magazine editor Richard Stolley who tracked down Zapruder. Stolley’s purchasing of Zapruder’s home movie for LIFE had a profound impact on the magazine, on Zapruder, on Stolley himself, and most lastingly on the nation. Having flown in from Los Angeles within hours of the murder, Stolley was in his hotel in Dallas that afternoon, just hours after the president was shot. “I got a phone call from a LIFE freelancer in Dallas named Patsy Swank,” Stolley told TIME producer Vaughn Wallace several years ago, “and the news she had was absolutely electrifying. She said that a businessman had taken an eight-millimeter camera out to Dealey Plaza and photographed the assassination. I said, ‘What’s his name?’ She said, ‘[The reporter who told her the news] didn’t spell it out, but I’ll tell you how he pronounced it. It was Zapruder.’

“I picked up the Dallas phone book and literally ran my finger down the Z’s, and it jumped out at me the name spelled exactly the way Patsy had pronounced it. Zapruder, comma, Abraham.”

The rest is history: fraught, complex, riveting, unsettled history

Film still from Abraham Zapruder’s home movie of JFK’s assassination in Dallas, Nov. 22, 1963.

Zapruder Film © 1967 (renewed 1995) The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza

Why the Zapruder Film is Authentic

Several pieces of documentary evidence in the John F. Kennedy assassination appear to have been altered or forged, but there is currently no good reason to suppose that the Zapruder film is one of them.

Access to the Zapruder Film

Its chain of possession is well documented, and provides no opportunity for conspirators to have gained access to the film before it had been copied and those copies had been widely distributed.

The Zapruder Film Matches Other Evidence

There are no obvious contradictions between the Zapruder film and the rest of the photographic evidence, including the three other home movies that depict the shooting.

Any photograph or film could have contained clear evidence that the Zapruder film had been altered, but no unambiguous examples of inconsistencies have yet been demonstrated. Several have been proposed, but there are straightforward explanations for all of them: they are either the by–products of poor–quality photographic reproductions, or the result of wishful thinking.

Hundreds of photographs and several home movies recorded various aspects of the motorcade’s progress through Dealey Plaza. They form a consistent body of evidence.

Access to Other Photographic Evidence

It would not have been possible to be certain that all such contradictions had been eliminated. Conspirators did not have access to the whole of the photographic evidence, and thus could not have known whether any alterations to the Zapruder film were at risk of being revealed. Nor could they have known how many photographs and other movies would consequently have needed to be altered to make them consistent with the forged Zapruder film.

The investigating authorities made little effort to identify photographers or to obtain photographs and movies, many of which were not made public until long after the assassination. Some images may still remain hidden, such as those from an unidentified woman who appears to have been pointing a still or movie camera directly at President Kennedy as he was shot in the head, just a few yards in front of her.

Concealing Evidence Within the Zapruder Film

Altering the film would have been a very inefficient way of concealing the evidence contained within it. The Zapruder film was one of the few items of photographic material that came to the attention of the authorities very soon after the assassination. Rather than take on the almost impossible task of altering the film, it would have been far easier simply to seize the film and make it disappear.

Zapruder Film Contains Evidence of Conspiracy

Finally, the most powerful and obvious point: the Zapruder film can hardly have been altered to cover up evidence of conspiracy, given that it contains almost irrefutable evidence of conspiracy:

  • When combined with certain uncontroversial facts, the Zapruder film provides explicit disproof of the single–bullet theory: Kennedy’s reaction to his throat wound occurs earlier than Connally’s reaction to his back wound, which in turn occurs earlier than Connally’s wrist wound.
  • Famously, the film reveals Kennedy’s sharp back–and–to–the–left movement in reaction to what can only plausibly be interpreted as a shot from in front.

If anyone did manage to alter the Zapruder film, they didn’t make a very good job of it.

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The JFK War: Hany Farid, Jefferson Morley and the Zapruder film

How can Jefferson Morley pretend to be an expert on the assassination of JFK when he is abysmally ignorant about it?”–Jim Fetzer

We are encountering the most massive disinformation in American history as the 50th observance of the assassination of JFK approaches. Long discredited theories–such as that a Secret Service man accidentally shot JFK with his AR-15, that Jackie shot JFK with a derringer, and an impostor was killed, while JFK is in Tahiti sipping Mai-Ties–are being marketed around the web.

The obvious cases are bad enough, but some not so obvious continue to make the rounds, including that William Greer, the driver, who pulled the limo to the left and to a stop to make sure JFK was killed, shot him with a .45 during the stop. But if that had been the case, then JFK’s brains would have been blown out to the right/rear, when they were instead blown out to the left/rear.

More insidious are those who deny the existence of the limo stop or make other attempts to prove that the Zapruder film is authentic. That poses a daunting task, since it would be necessary to show that, in every respect, the extant film corresponds to what actually happened during the event as it took place in Dealey Plaza. If that is not true in any respect, its authenticity has been falsified.

Hany Farid, a computer scientist from Dartmouth College, who has a lab funded by the FBI, offers a striking case of a faculty member abusing his position to disseminate false information about the assassination of JFK. Jefferson Morely, a well-known reporter, whose work I have previously questioned, has created a new web site to promote his own extremely slanted view about JFK, including the Zapruder film.

Hany Farid and the backyard photos

We last encountered Hany Farid, a computer scientist from Dartmouth College, when he claimed to have shown that the backyard photographs of Lee Oswald, which were allegedly taken by his wife, Marina, had been verified by showing that he had been able to reconstruct the nose shadow in one of the photographs, which he claimed thereby established their authenticity. I kid you not!

Since there are at least four of these photographs (and the negative for a fifth is missing), you might have thought that he would at least extend his argument to all of them, instead of focusing on only one. And it might have been appropriate had he acknowledged that the nose shadow was only one of multiple proofs that the photos were faked, where he did not bother with any of the rest.

Thus, for example, the chin in the photos is a block chin, not Oswald’s more tapered and pointed chin. There is an insert line between the lower lip and the chin. The tips of the fingers of his right hand are cut off. And when you use the newspapers he is holding as an internal ruler, it turns out that the man in the photos at 5𔄀″ is too short to be Lee Oswald, who was approximately 5󈧎”.

Moreover, for a photographic expert, his claims are astoundingly shoddy, since it even turns out that the face in all four of the photos is exactly the same, which is an optical impossibility, insofar as the subject was photographed at different times and positions. As Lee told Homicide Detective Will Fritz during his interrogation, his face had been pasted on someone else’s body–which is true!

This matte was subsequently discovered in the desk of a DPD detective, who claimed he had only make it to see if it could be done. I wrote to the President of Dartmouth, Jim Yong Kim, at the time to object to the abuse of his faculty position, but it was swept under the rug. Jim Marrs and I subsequently published “Framing the Patsy: The Case of Lee Harvey Oswald”, which leaves no doubt about it.

Hany Farid and the Zapruder film

As so often happens in Washington–where the bigger the liar, the further you go–Jim Youg Kin became the President of the World Bank, where, as Karen Hudes has explained, he has been doing more of the same but on a grander scale. Hany Farid, in the meanwhile, having demonstrated his competence with regard to the backyard photos, has turned his attention to the Zapruder film.

As in the case of his work on the backyard photo(s), he commits the fallacy of special pleading by ignoring all the evidence that contradicts his predetermined position. Even if he were correct about the nose shadow in one photograph, it should not be the same across all four photos, not to mention other proofs of fakery. He wants to show that the black area in Frame 317 is a naturally occurring phenomenon.

Even if he were correct, that would not overcome the mountain of evidence from more than 60 witnesses, the internal contradictions in the extant film, its inconsistency with the medial and ballistic evidence and other witnesses who have viewed another and more complete film that includes, for example, the limo coming to a complete stop. As before, Hany Farid implies that, if one issue is resolvable, he has resolved them all.

So he compounds one fallacy (special pleading) with another (hasty generalization), which of course is the strategy he has adopted, hoping that those who are unfamiliar with the evidence in this case will be taken in. But he has to know that there is ample proof that the dark area at the back of the head was painted over in black and that the film is not even internally consistent, as Frame 374 reveals:

Since the blow out at the back of his head — the blue-gray, cashew-shaped defect, as opposed to the pinkish skull flap, which was also blown open when JFK was hit in the right temple by a frangible (or “exploding”) bullet — it has to have been cover-up in those earlier frames, as as group of Hollywood film restoration experts have long-since concluded. So Farid is committing a fraud by abusing his position at Dartmouth to spread false information to the public about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Hany Farid is a fraud.

Jefferson Morley and the Zapruder film

Is there any chance that he is unaware of the importance of Frame 374 or the confirmation of the painting over of the blow out in Frame 317 and many other frames? He lists The Great Zapruder Film Hoax (2003) among his references, which gives the specious impression that he has actually studied its contents and findings. Frame 374, which is emphasized in the prologue, refutes his claims about the film, as I have shown. So Hany Farid only had to read as far as page 25 to know that what he was claiming was false. An even more blatantly fallacious approach to the film is found on Jefferson Morley’s
JFKFacts.org web site:

It is not difficult for even new students of JFK to discover there is something odd about Jefferson Morley’s new JFKFacts.org web site, since he lists the web site of John McAdams, who is a notorious proponent of the lone-gunman theory, as “one of the best”, and my assassinationscience.com, as “one of the worst”. When he was challenged about this classification, he explained that his derogation of my site was because I promote the alteration of the Zapruder film, which is ironic, since the faking of the film is a fact about the assassination of JFK. Here is the challenge (posed by someone other than I) and his response thereto:

He dismisses the alterationist thesis, not by refuting any of the evidence, but on the basis of hypothetical questions, where the answer to 1) appears to be that it is flawed and they did not want to make it available for research that might expose its shortcomings, as John P. Costella, Ph.D., has done and 2) that it DID ignite a call for a reinvestigation by the House Select Committee on Assassinations (1977-79), because it appears to show the effects of a shot fired from the right/front! How can Jefferson Morley pretend to be an expert on the assassination of JFK when he is abysmally ignorant about it? He characterizes his questions as “elementary facts” when they are both predicated on false assumptions. On JFK, Morley is a moron.

Indeed, to be precise about it, questions cannot qualify as facts because (apart from their presuppositions, which in this case are false) they are non-assertive. Asking a question is not the same thing as positing an answer. On a proper understanding of the meaning of the word “fact” as a claim that is not only true but provably true, he has blundered. It is a fact that the Zapruder film cannot possibly be authentic, even on the basis of the simple proof I have advanced comparing frames 317 and 374 above! It is not even internally consistent, since it shows both a blow-out and no blow out at the back of the same head at approximately the same time.

Morely characterizes assassinationscience.com as “misnamed”, which is absurd. Even Vincent Bugliosi has observed that my three are “the only exclusively scientific books” ever published on the death of JFK. It is also a fact that I have published many articles making this point, including “JFK: Who’s telling the truth: Clint Hill or the Zapruder film?” and “Did Zapruder film ‘the Zapruder film’?”, to which the answer is emphatically, “No!”, because no one took a film fabricated in a laboratory, as was the extant film at a CIA lab in Rochester, NY, near Kokak Headquarters.

Multiple proofs the film is a fake

Since rationality requires that we revise our beliefs with the acquisition of new evidence and alternative hypotheses, the time has come to abandon the fantasy that the Zapruder film is authentic. But don’t expect the Josiah Thompsons, the Robert Grodens and the lesser fry to abandon their promotion of Zapruder film authenticity. Consider this: The JFK Lancer Conference for the 50th observance of the death of JFK in Dallas is featuring as its keynote speaker Jefferson Morley!

Jim Fetzer, a former Marine Corps officer, is McKnight Professor Emeritus at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Unedited Zapruder Film Finally Surfaces

The fabled “French” other version of the famous Zapruder film has finally surfaced.

This unedited stabilized crystal clear version of the Zapruder film is different than the film commonly seen by the American public. It has been described as showing the limo making a wide turn from Houston St. onto Elm and a bullet hitting the Stemmons Freeway sign. More shockingly, the film reportedly shows the limo completely stopped or substantially slowed when the fatal head shots are fired.

This film has just blown the assassination up big time. You can even hear the 2 simultaneous shots plus more that head shot him. The head shot is also not doctored in this footage.. You can even hear the damn window screen pop as the bullet flies from the front into his throat.. just watch!!

This is the best evidence ever seen. Just the fact that this video debunks the fakery on the original Zapruder for the head shot is enough. It shows conspiracy at the highest levels.. to try and implicate a shot from behind.

Zapruders camera did not have sound… The audio you hear is real! its the authentic sound from the police bikers walkie talkie being pressed down all through the assassination. With the audio synched up with the Zapruder film gives them both a new dimension.

This is without doubt a smoking gun. I think it clearly proves conspiracy.

Uh oh. someones got some splainin' to do.

I'm certain there will be shock and awe by many, but I for one am not, at all. Not in the least. Being a person who follows the precepts of old school skepticism to open mind, suspend judgment, and investigate, I was never convinced by the official narrative. It never made sense. It had more gaping holes than Swiss-cheese. It just continued to stink like a tuna boat in July from beginning to end.

What this unaltered version of the Zapruder film also is, is pure grade A pseudoskeptic-debunker kryptomite. Facts and reality this film will produce is going to agonizingly burn and incinerate the egos of pseudoskeptic-debunkers like beautiful life-giving sunshine striking a vampire's pasty white cadaver-like skin. The feasting of eating crow is going to be a glorious sight to behold.

I imagine though, many will scatter like cockroaches caught in the act when the kitchen light is switched on or they'll double-down on their cognitive dissonance and denial. Either way it's going to be endless fun filled entertainment as the destruction of their Macy's Day parade blimp sized heads, appropriately sized to contain their egos, pop like gossamer soap bubbles.

Caution: I strongly recommend not going anywhere near or being in the vicinity of the JREF or CISCOP forums. They may experience thermonuclear megalomania detonation. I will, however, be keeping an eye on Doubtful News(?) to see what happens when Sharon Hill hears about this. I have this feeling it may be just like what happened to the Wicked Witch of the West in Wizard of Oz. ❝Oh noooo facts and reality and no way to smear it with ridiculous nonsense, smug, and snarky (fake) self-righteousness! I'm melting, melting, melting. arruuuhhhgggg!❞ Oh please. if there is a GOD, Creator, or Infinite Cosmic Oneness, let be so! Pleeease..

The Zapruder Film: A New Book Reveals the Untold Story of the Man Who Recorded JFK’s Assassination

Abraham Zapruder recorded a tragic moment in history when he captured President John F. Kennedy‘s assassination in full color on Nov. 22, 1963.

Fifty-three years later, granddaughter Alexandra Zapruder adds a fresh narrative to an old tragedy with the release of Twenty-Six Seconds: A Personal History of the Zapruder Film. The book, out last month, delves into the story of her grandfather, who was traumatized after making a home movie that serves as the only complete record of Kennedy’s death. Twenty-Six Seconds also fleshes out the complex situation in which the Zapruder family found itself after the assassination.

“We’re living in a time where we need to have complicated answers to complicated questions. is my own inquiry into our family legacy and the life of the film,” Alexandra Zapruder tells PEOPLE. “The way that we handled the film shaped the way that the film reached the public and that shaped the way that people thought about the assassination.”

The history of the film is a complicated one.

Zapruder writes that immediately after the assassination, duplicates of the footage went to the federal government. The original film was soon sold to LIFE magazine for $150,000, and was eventually used as evidence in the Warren Commission’s investigation of JFK’s death. Many years later, the Zapruder family once again owned the film, only to face criticism, conspiracy theories and lawsuits.

Despite the hefty sum, for Abraham Zapruder the film represented loss.

According to the book, the Zapruders had great love for the Kennedy family. Zapruder’s son Henry (the author’s father) had just been assigned a position in the Justice Department under the Kennedy Administration. So when Abraham Zapruder unintentionally filmed Kennedy’s death as the commander in chief rode with first lady Jacqueline in the presidential limo in Dallas, Zapruder’s granddaughter writes that he could remember nothing afterwards “except for his own anguished screams.”

“ loved Kennedy. He was a middle-aged man at that point, an immigrant, born in Russia, and he certainly voted for Kennedy and was truly devoted to Kennedy and the family,” says Dick Stolley, the LIFE editor (and future founding editor of PEOPLE magazine) who purchased the film from Zapruder. “For Kennedy to be killed, and even worse, for literally to witness the murder through the rangefinder on his camera, was something, quite frankly, he never recovered from.”

Stolley described sitting in the room when Zapruder first showed the film to him and two Secret Service agents. (One of Zapruder’s first instincts was to get the film to government authorities.)

“We all knew what had happened, but we had no idea what it looked like,” says Stolley. “The three of us were standing and when frame 313 – when his brain sprays up into the air – all of us went ‘ugh!’ It was amazing, as if we’d all been punched in the stomach simultaneously. I’ve never seen anything like that on film or in real life.”

Not only was Zapruder reeling from what he’d filmed, the book describes a man plagued by reporters who wanted the film for their news organizations. As a result, the offer Stolley made on behalf of LIFE magazine was a “safe harbor in a sea of sharks,” Alexandra Zapruder writes.

“ very worried that would be exploited or used in a way that he would find tasteless and awful if it fell into the wrong hands,” says Stolley. “You could see it — this was a man in absolute torment.”

Since federal agents failed to confiscate the original film after they made duplicates, Alexandra Zapruder writes her grandfather felt it was his responsibility to protect the public, especially because people weren’t used to such violent images.

“He knew that the media was going to want to have it and that the public was going to want to see it. There was an inherent conflict between that and his sense that he should respect President Kennedy and protect Mrs. Kennedy from this horrible thing being sensationalized,” she says. “I think the sale to LIFE magazine really represented his best compromise.”

After the sale to LIFE, her grandfather was praised for donating $25,000 to the family of the police officer who was killed by JFK’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. But, according to Stolley, LIFE was later criticized for limiting the public’s access to the film (private ownership and the damage of original frames also inspired conspiracy theories). According to Twenty-Six Seconds, the Zapruder family was also hit with criticism when they later reclaimed rights to the film – even more so after the $16 million sale to the government.

“I understand why people are critical about the money, but everyone in our family would have much preferred that the president hadn’t been killed, and if he had been, that it hadn’t been our grandfather who took the film,” says Zapruder.

While she didn’t write the book to create sympathy for her family, she highlighted the sense of responsibility her father later faced when regulating use of the film. Like his father, Henry Zapruder feared the violent images would be tossed about carelessly for public consumption.

“In my view, thank God it fell to him because he was such a responsible person,” she says, “and he was smart enough to understand what the issues were.”

Beyond the legacy of the film that’s been inherited by her family, Zapruder also touches on the most elemental truths found in those 26 seconds — the human story that makes the film so hard to watch.

“ is the visual representation of what we all know about the fragility of human life, that we don’t want to know … life can come to an end in an instant,” she says. “The fact that it happened to the most beautiful couple in the world, the most powerful couple in the world, the Kennedys, adds to the pathos. But if you separate from that you just see a man and a woman riding in the car on a sunny day. And then, suddenly, he’s dead.”

“That is something that is true about the world that we live in,” she adds. “Everything is fragile and everything can be taken away.”

Alt-Fact, Alt-Reality: Zapruder Meets Baudrillard

Given what we know about humanity, “alternative facts” have probably been around since the earliest cave paintings. Political conspiracies have been around since at least Ancient Greece. What’s different since 1963 is the role mass media play in both conspiracy theory and Alt-Fact worldviews amid the 24/7 media spectacle.

The Zapruder effect shows how the replication of images and texts can impact the meaning of the event and the order of history. Since 1963, conspiracies have spiralled into sheer madness, such as the Apollo moon landing hoax or the 9/11 truth movement. No, Stanley Kubrick did not film the moon landings for NASA. No, the US government did not bring down the Twin Towers with bombs. (9/11 Truthers, see my note at the end of this essay.)

As shown by the proliferation of 9/11, UFO, and Ancient Alien conspiracies, conditions are more radical in the age of the internet, social media, and Photoshop. Obviously, images can be manipulated and circulated on a planetary scale, such that images of key events may not be 100% reliable or may have been distorted or completely fake. With our technologies, we can generate a blizzard of “alternative facts.” Hence, the Alt-Fact worldview filled with bogus truths, fake news, and conspiracy religions. But bogus truths and fake news are a mere cover for more radical conditions.

KEY POINT 8. In the 21st century, most people’s “knowledge” of facts and events is filtered through mass media and media technologies, be it television, social media, or the endless sources, images, and videos on the internet. Media are central to our epistemology — central to how we determine the scope and validity of our knowledge, how we distinguish truth from falsehood or opinion, and the role that empirical “evidence” plays in this process. In fact, media — in all its forms — are the dominant human epistemology in the 21st century.I would go even further and say that media is reality today, that media generates the “facts” and “realities” to fit mediated worldviews. For many, the conspiracy theories are media-generated cognitive maps for interpreting events of the world.

In effect, the real world has been overtaken by the mediated world, precisely in the efforts to map reality and unveil “the facts.” In Simulacra and Simulation, media philosopher Jean Baudrillard argued that the “real world” has disappeared from consciousness, having largely been displaced by models and simulations — what he termed the “hyperreality” now indistinguishable from the original reality being displaced. Alt-Reality is our mediated condition. This is the cumulative effect of Disneyland, Hollywood, television, and the proliferation of electronic media, especially the internet. As if anticipating the power of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, Baudrillard wrote:

“All metaphysics is lost. No more mirror of being and appearance, of the real and its concept. . . . The real is produced from miniaturized cells, matrices, and memory banks, models of control — and it can be reproduced an indefinite number of times from these. . . . It is no longer a question of imitation, nor duplication, nor even parody. It is a question of substituting the signs of the real for the real . . . Never again will the real have the chance to produce itself — such is the vital function of the model.”

In effect, Baudrillard is saying that electronic media have departed on their own trajectory of reprogramming or reproducing the world, as embodied in the world of Disneyland or the endless takes on the Zapruder film in YouTube. We like to think of media as maps for our world, as suggested by Google Maps and Facebook status updates. But, in many ways, the situation is reversed — the media maps are generating the territories to which our culture and consciousness conform.Rather than represent reality, the media, Hollywood, and Disneyland anticipate and generate reality. The real and the fictional are no longer dualities, but rather cloned models in an endless series of reproduction, thus blurring distinctions between the fictional and the authentic — between the symbol and what it stands for. We live in a world where the signs and symbols of the real have largely replaced the real—a hyperreality of images, clones, copies, facades, replicas, reproductions, and re-masterings. As Baudrillard wrote, it’s “the perfect crime”—reality has been murdered right before our eyes and not only are there no suspects, but no one even knows it happened.

These are the existential conditions we face in the 24/7 media spectacle. The effect of the Zapruder film reflects these conditions—from the empirical event of the fatal headshot, the Zapruder film has spiraled into the realm of hyperreality, into a world of viral conspiracies, replicating the signs and symbols of conspiracy throughout the 24/7 spectacle. It’s planet Photoshop — more true than true, more real than real, more factual than factual.

Zapruder was born into a Ukrainian-Jewish family in the city of Kovel, the Russian Empire (now Ukraine), the son of Israel Zapruder. [1] He received only four years of formal education in Ukraine. In 1909, his father left for America. In 1918, Abraham Zapruder left Kovel for Warsaw with his family. At some point, Zapruder's brother was pulled off a train and murdered in front of his family, apparently by Polish guards. In 1920, his family emigrated to the United States, settling in Brooklyn, New York where they were reunited with Israel Zapruder. [2] [3]

Studying English at night, he found work as a clothing pattern maker in Manhattan's garment district. In 1933, he married Lillian Sapovnik (1913–1993), with whom he had two children. [4] Zapruder was a Freemason and an Inspector-General (33rd degree) of the Scottish Rite. [5]

In 1941, Zapruder moved to Dallas, Texas, to work for Nardis, a local sportswear company. In 1949, he co-founded Jennifer Juniors, Inc., producing the Chalet and Jennifer Juniors brands of dresses. [6] [7] From the summer of 1953 to April 1954, Zapruder worked at Nardis side by side with Jeanne LeGon. [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [a] His Jennifer Juniors offices were on the fourth floor of the Dal-Tex Building, [16] across the street from the Texas School Book Depository. [17]

Filming of assassination Edit

At the time of the assassination, Zapruder was an admirer of President Kennedy and considered himself a Democrat. Zapruder had originally planned to film the motorcade carrying President Kennedy through downtown Dallas on November 22, but he decided not to film the event because it had been raining that morning. When he arrived at work that morning without his camera, Zapruder's assistant insisted that he retrieve it from home before going to Dealey Plaza because the weather had cleared. [18]

Zapruder's movie camera was an 8 mm Bell & Howell Zoomatic Director Series Model 414 PD—top of the line when it was purchased in 1962. Zapruder had planned to film the motorcade from his office window but decided to choose a more optimal spot in Dealey Plaza where the motorcade would be passing. [19] He chose to film on top of a 4-foot (1.2 m) concrete abutment which extends from a retaining wall that was part of the John Neely Bryan concrete pergola on the grassy knoll north of Elm Street, in Dealey Plaza. [20] Zapruder's secretary, Marilyn Sitzman, offered to assist Zapruder as he suffered from vertigo and was apprehensive about standing on the abutment alone. [19]

While Sitzman stood behind Zapruder and held his coat to steady him, he began filming the presidential motorcade as it turned from Houston Street onto Elm Street in front of the Book Depository. Zapruder's film captured 26.6 seconds of the traveling motorcade carrying President Kennedy on 486 frames of Kodak Kodachrome II safety film. Zapruder's film captured the fatal head shot that struck President Kennedy as his limousine passed almost directly in front of Zapruder and Sitzman's position, 65 feet (20 m) from the center of Elm Street. [21]

Zapruder would later recall that he immediately knew that President Kennedy's wound was fatal as he saw the president's head ". explode like a firecracker." [18] [22] Walking back to his office amid the confusion following the shots, Zapruder encountered The Dallas Morning News reporter Harry McCormick, who was standing near Zapruder and noticed he was filming the motorcade. McCormick was acquainted with Agent Forrest Sorrels of the Secret Service's Dallas office, and offered to bring Sorrels to Zapruder's office. [23] [24] Zapruder agreed and returned to his office. McCormick later found Sorrels outside the Sheriff's office at Main and Houston, and together they went to Zapruder's office.

Zapruder agreed to give the film to Sorrels on the condition it would be used only for investigation of the assassination. The three then took the film to the television station WFAA to be developed. After it was realized that WFAA was unable to develop Zapruder's footage, the film was taken to Eastman Kodak's Dallas processing plant later that afternoon where it was immediately developed. As the Kodachrome process requires different equipment for duplication than for simple development, Zapruder's film was not developed until around 6:30 p.m. The original developed film was taken to the Jamieson Film Company, where three additional copies were exposed these were returned to Kodak around 8 p.m. for processing. Zapruder kept the original, plus one copy, and gave the other two copies to Sorrels, who sent them to Secret Service headquarters in Washington.

Television interview Edit

While at WFAA, Zapruder described on live television the assassination of President Kennedy:

Sale of rights Edit

Late that evening, Zapruder was contacted at home by Richard Stolley, an editor at Life magazine (and first editor of the future People magazine). They arranged to meet the following morning to view the film, after which Zapruder sold the print rights to Life for $50,000. Stolley was representing Time/Life on behalf of Publisher Charles Douglas Jackson.

The following day (November 24), Life purchased all rights to the film for a total of $150,000 (approximately $1,268,000 today). [27] [28]

The night after the assassination, Zapruder said that he had a nightmare in which he saw a booth in Times Square advertising "See the President's head explode!" [29] He determined that, while he was willing to make money from the film, he did not want the public to see the full horror of what he had seen. Therefore, a condition of the sale to Life was that frame 313, showing the fatal shot, would be withheld. [30] Although he made a profit from selling the film, he asked that the amount he was paid not be publicly disclosed. He later donated $25,000 (about $211,000 today) of the money he was paid to the widow of Officer J. D. Tippit, a Dallas police officer who was shot and killed by Lee Harvey Oswald 45 minutes after President Kennedy was killed. [18] [31] [32]

In 1975, Time, Inc. (which owned Life magazine) sold the film back to the Zapruder family for $1. In 1978, the Zapruders allowed the film to be stored at the National Archives and Records Administration where it remains. In 1999, the Zapruders donated the copyright of the film to the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. [18]

Testimony Edit

In his testimony to the Warren Commission, Zapruder was asked for his impression regarding the direction of the shots:

Zapruder added that he had assumed the shots came from behind him because the President's head went backwards from the fatal shot, and also that the wound on the side of the President's head was facing that direction. He also said he believed it because police officers ran to the area behind him. [33]

He broke down and wept as he recalled the assassination, [34] and did so again at the 1969 trial of Clay Shaw. [35]

Zapruder died of stomach cancer in Dallas on August 30, 1970 at Parkland Memorial Hospital, [36] and is buried in the Emanu-El Cemetery in Dallas. [37]




In the recent, and supposedly last, release of files pertaining to the Kennedy assassination, most of the corporate press did not dwell on the fact that the most important and secret files were kept from the public, but, of course, that was actually the big story.

Now, I say that not knowing just what was not released or indeed whether the unreleased files even contain any serious information. You see, in the world of state secrets, secrecy is often used to hide embarrassing incompetence or even criminality. The unreleased documents may be just as uninformative as much of what has been released. So much of what has been released over recent decades is of little hard value to the case. We may legitimately ask, why was a lot of this junk ever declared national secrets to be squirreled away for a half century and more?

I can’t answer that question, but exactly the same question may be asked about so very many things and activities pertaining to the assassination. Of course, it shouldn’t be that way, but it is, and that fact alone screams that important things always were, and still are, hidden. Are the key facts really that unbelievably sensitive? Are they even known?

The question might even be asked whether the authorities themselves ever really understood accurately what happened. The FBI and CIA not even knowing what happened might itself be a worthy state secret, reflecting on the sheer competence of these two massively-funded and often abusive security agencies. God knows, they both have long records of embarrassing and destructive failures at home and abroad.

And, it must be remembered that outfits like CIA always have fallback positions ready for major activities should the first story spring some unexpected leak. So, even if records were maintained of actual events – something which is not always certain going by CIA’s past record, as in the case of the coup in Guatemala against a democratic government, an event whose files could not be found at their scheduled release date – whatever is eventually released to the public may reflect a fallback narrative. The complexity of filing systems at a place like CIA permits some amazing antics, and no one from the outside is able to check. That of course is just one of the dangers of having such powerful, secret, and largely unaccountable agencies.

The facts of a murder case – no matter who the victim was, a rather simple murder actually if you believe the Warren Report, a murder by one disgruntled man with a rifle and no accomplices of any kind – should be public information in a free society. What possibly warrants secrecy in such a case? Nothing, of course. Yet we know we have had secrecy and still have it, massively so, and since the earliest days after the crime.

We still face a huge, impenetrable, blank wall, much resembling something from an ancient mysterious tomb, when it comes to this history-changing event.

If the assassination of an elected President can be effectively covered-up, what cannot? And a great many terrible events have happened in the United states since that crime. Vietnam, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria plus many other bloody awful things that make little sense and have never been honestly explained to the people by government.

The press still is very fond of the term, “conspiracy theory,” and it is easy to find articles weekly which employ it, but the term should always serve as a red flag for astute readers. It is said to have been coined by a CIA publicist/disinformation officer in 1967 as a way to express ridicule of those doubting the Warren Report, a document in fact riddled with errors and inconsistencies.

I’ve read some documents and summaries of documents recently released, and I have to say that many contain things which were already known. Other things were not known, but they include nothing of decisive importance. (SEE FOOTNOTE REGARDING THIS CLAIM)

We find in the released documents relative trivia like Hoover warning Dallas Police of an attempt on Oswald’s life. A memo which of course could be interpreted as nothing but Hoover covering his behind, something he was very good at, having a great deal of experience doing it.

Hoover was always a suspicious character through the entire assassination events. First, it was his agency that did all the investigative work for the Warren Commission. His Agency that selected which witnesses would testify and which would not, the selection often seeming to show the most perverse inclination to the witness who an unbiassed observer might say was the least reliable.

And it was his Agency which browbeat many witnesses into amending details of what they witnessed and told a number in threatening terms not to divulge what they were saying. We also have witnesses who later discovered their words in the published Report had been altered from what they actually said.

And it is Hoover who early on named the guilty party as Oswald. He never offered any sound reason, always referring to Oswald along lines like “some lone nut communist.”

Hoover was of course aware of Oswald owing to Oswald’s having been a “defector.” And we even have an earlier memo of Hoover’s, never explained, about perhaps someone impersonating Oswald. It just hangs there in space with no context or explanation.

It should be mentioned, too, that Hoover loathed the Kennedys, both of them. I do not believe he was associated with the assassins – though some people very much do – but I think he privately rejoiced in Kennedy’s death. With the President gone, he would no longer be seriously subject to the demands of his formal boss, Attorney General Robert, a man he truly detested. And he would not be asked to retire because Lyndon Johnson loved him.

The investigation of the assassination was also the opportunity to once again preach his favorite official sermon about the extreme danger communists represented to America. He had pursued communists for decades, even at the cost of letting a genuine national threat, the Mafia, grow and prosper. It was said at one time that about thirty percent of the American Communist Party’s members were FBI agents or informants. And, quite simply, Hoover had no motive to relentlessly pursue the people who had actually improved his life as well as America’s, as he saw it.

The arrest of Oswald was one of the most bizarre and unexplained matters in the whole assassination saga. There was no reason at all for anyone to seek him. There was no basis for a suspicion. The only thing that was known not long after the assassination was that Oswald had left work, as did others. A description that went out on police radio was so generic as to be virtually useless in locating any specific person. And why would police converge on a movie theater away from downtown owing simply to call claiming a man had sneaked in without buying a ticket?

Why was Oswald at that movie theater? Almost certainly to meet someone he knew from the conspiracy, quite likely Jack Ruby. Ruby is very likely to have been the man who earlier shot Officer Tippet on the street. Oswald could not have made it there in time for that event, walking as he did from his boarding house. We have good timing testimony on that killing from several witnesses.

And Tippet was known as a shady cop in Dallas, with right wing associations. He was quite likely involved with the plotters in some minor way. Ruby shot him to silence him just as he may have been headed to the theater to meet and shoot Oswald, but all the sudden heavy police presence prevented him from doing so. He, of course, two days later shot Oswald while right in police custody in a supposedly high-security prisoner transfer.

The summaries of new documents just released I saw are so uninformative you have to ask yourself why the documents would ever have been classified in the first place.

They include things like the fact that Lyndon Johnson was once a member of the Klu Klux Klan in Texas. Wow, now there is a serious state secret. And a fact, considering all the other horrors of Johnson’s career – documented election rigging, massive financial corruption with people like Billy Sol Estes, foul behavior of every description, starting a massive pointless war in Vietnam, complicity in Israel’s 1967 War and its attack on an American spy ship – the KKK fact seems trivial.

Indeed, as was asked at the time of the assassination, why was any of it a matter of state security and secrecy if the murder was the work of one disgruntled man? Why were any documents ever made secret? And why are many still secret after this dump?

Oswald is said in one document to have spoken with a KGB agent, Valeriy Kostikov, from the KGB’s directorate for assassination, in Mexico City? We already knew that story. You can find it in dozens of books.

The real question remains whether Oswald himself was, in fact, ever in Mexico City? It is just taken for granted by our press, as it pretty much was by the Warren Report.

The CIA covered the Soviet Embassy there with cameras and telephone intercepts 24 hours a day, yet when asked to produce photos and recordings of Oswald back for the early investigations, the CIA produced a photo of a total stranger, blindingly clearly not Oswald, and claimed any phone recordings had been routinely erased.

There is not one shred of solid evidence placing Oswald in Mexico City, although we know very well that someone resembling him was there, going between the Cuban and Russian Embassies and bringing a lot of attention to himself. Cuba? Russia? Early 1960s?

Why would anyone do that? The best guess is to have Oswald’s name associated with Cuba when the assassination occurred.

There were other efforts at such association during Oswald’s time in New Orleans. He worked passing out leaflets for the Fair Play for Cuba organization, even though he was never a proper member. Some of these leaflets were actually mistakenly stamped with the address of Guy Bannister Associates on Camp Street, Bannister being a retired fairly senior FBI Agent and a known advocate for right-wing causes.

His Agency was likely in part a front for CIA’s anti-Castro weapons acquisition and distribution. Remember, these were days of intense anti-Castro activity by CIA and its proxies like the various anti-Castro groups. A couple of witnesses saw Oswald at the office once or at another location with Bannister.

Oswald’s leaflets, when people filled out the form to support Fair Play for Cuba, simply provided Bannister and those working with him with lists of local Castro sympathizers. The effort of course further associated Oswald’s name with Cuba and with vaguely Marxist sympathies, something that was certainly an act.

Why would he desire to create all that attention? So that, after the assassination, the name Oswald would be firmly connected with those awful places, Russia and Cuba. And believe me, there is nothing in 1963 that the CIA wanted to see more than another invasion of Cuba. The Bay of Pigs invasion by a proxy army of trained refugees in 1961 had badly failed, and part of Kennedy’s agreement with Khrushchev, late 1962, to end the Cuban Missile Crisis included a promise not to invade Cuba. Those two events alone and their aftermath made Kennedy loathed at the CIA and by America’s Cuban refugee terrorist groups in places like New Orleans and Miami.

Another not widely-known fact which screams conspiracy were previous assassination plots against Kennedy, one in Chicago and one in Miami. The one in Chicago was planned remarkably along the same lines as Dallas. High-power rifles, elevated position, several shooters, and a patsy candidate. It was broken up, but the would-be assailants escaped. In Miami, the President’s trip was changed from a car to a helicopter in the face of serious threat information.

The people actually plotting the assassination wanted not only to get rid of a President they hated but they wanted the assassination itself to provide America with an irresistible cause for invading Cuba in force despite any previous understanding with the Russians. They were trying to “kill two birds with one stone.”

It should also always be borne in mind that Oswald himself had no known motive. He said more than once that he admired Kennedy. He was not really some wild-eyed Marxist either, despite pretenses. Indeed, the suggestion provided by his associations in New Orleans – as Guy Bannister – was that, if anything, he might have had right-wing sympathies. But there is reason not to believe even that. Oswald did work as an FBI informant, despite Hoover’s denial, and I believe that work would have been associated with the Kennedys’ efforts to clamp down on CIA and anti-Castro activities to improve relations with the Soviet Union and Cuba after the Missile Crisis.

The likelihood of Oswald being impersonated briefly in Mexico parallels somebody resembling Oswald involved with a list of pre-assassination incidents in Dallas we know about. These ranged from a man acting bizarrely while test-driving a car with a salesman and claiming to be Oswald (Oswald himself could not drive) to a man making a spectacle of himself at a shooting range.

Everyone who has read at length on the subject knows there was a man resembling Oswald deliberately and showily doing various odd things around Dallas, there being many witnesses, to call attention to himself in the weeks before the assassination. Indeed, right in the Texas Book Depository, there was another employee named Billy Lovelady who greatly resembled Oswald, enough to often be confused with him. Indeed, Dallas Deputy Sheriff Roger Craig, a man whose various testimony suggests good observational ability, maintained that he thought he saw Oswald leave the Book Depository and jump into a light-colored station wagon which sped away. Oswald himself we know did not leave that way.

Of course, no serious assassin would ever do such things to call extreme attention to himself as someone did in Oswald’s name shortly before the assassination, and the set of events is just one of a number of things which strongly suggest conspiracy.

We still have no indication how Oswald learned to speak Russian in the United States while in the Marines, but we have evidence that he did so fluently although not always with good grammar, and he spoke it before his discharge and going off to the Soviet Union. The Warren Commission studiously avoided details of this tricky topic.

And how did a man who had threatened to tell the Soviets radar secrets about the U-2 spy plane he learned in the Marines, as Oswald very much did, get to return home without any controversy or penalties?

How did he get an early discharge from the Marines on the flimsiest of evidence of a compassionate problem with his mother, whom he left just two days after arriving from the Marines to take off on an elaborately-planned journey to Russia? Who planned that elaborate trip which reflected knowledge of the easiest location for entering the Soviet Union? Who paid his costs?

How did he manage to bring a Soviet wife, who spoke almost no English, with him when he returned to America in less than three years? In the early 1960s, with the “Reds are at the Gates” rage going on? Unbelievable.

And how did he manage to hit upon a group of White Russian emigres and Russian-speakers in Dallas, people who gave the couple all kinds of assistance? And several of those people had past associations with CIA although they weren’t employees. People like George de Mohrenschildt and Ruth Paine.

Why would White Russian (anti-communist)-associated people take any interest in a so-called Marxist just returned from having defected to the Soviet Union, and a young man of very humble means and origins when some of them were seriously connected? Mohrenschildt, for example, was a sophisticated aristocrat and was related to Jackie Kennedy.

I could make a long list of important facts screaming cover-ups and conspiracy, but I think one of the more important ones came to light recently, and not from these documents. It was from the Cuban refugee, CIA-trained terrorist Antonio Veciana of the violent anti-Castro group, Alpha 66, finally telling us the truth about a famous incident known to all researchers.

Veciana saw a contact of his, a man with the pseudonym Maurice Bishop, talking with Oswald before the assassination. In the past, he would never identify Bishop as the CIA’s David Atlee Phillips, but he finally has done so in his recent book. So here we have a quite senior CIA agent, David Atlee Phillips, meeting with Oswald before the assassination, identified by a man who worked closely with him, albeit under another name.

Again, during the meetings of the Warren Commission, there was an emergency meeting called about the discovery of an FBI informant number for Oswald as well as an uncashed voucher for $200. They simply dropped the whole matter with a self-serving letter from Hoover denying any connection.

We know Oswald had intelligence connections, but still apparently nothing is in this release of trivia.

This dump of bits of redacted papers it seems will add nothing of substance to our understanding, and that is what it clearly was meant to do. It has been done only to say, “See, we told you so.”

Saying CIA had no involvement in Kennedy’s assassination is exactly like the claim, made a thousand times, that CIA had no role in the induced-terror imposed on Syria to topple its government, or, indeed, a long series of ugly coups and assassinations in a number of countries abroad.

In the first moments after the shooting, some police headed uphill on the Grassy Knoll. Many indications from sound to the way crowds moved and pointed suggested something had occurred there. One policeman ran up the slope and began searching behind the barriers with his gun drawn. He met a suited man who quickly offered an official-looking ID card for the Secret Service.

The policeman holstered his gun and didn’t pursue the direction he had been headed. Nor did he note the identity of the “agent.” The trouble with that brief episode is that the Secret Service is known not to have stationed any officers on the Grassy Knoll. It was, of course, a terrible error in their preparations for the motorcade, but it is nevertheless what they did. So, who was the suited man with the false Secret Service ID? And what was he doing there? And where would he obtain such an ID? I think we’re safe in saying he wasn’t Oswald.

The fake Secret Service agent may well have been a man seen by another witness briefly earlier. A man who could only communicate by sign language told a clear story of being on the overpass and noticing a man in a suit, just behind the wooden picket fence that stood along the top of the Grassy Knoll, holding something. He saw the man in the suit swing around and toss what he was holding to another man in work clothes, waiting nearby.

The man who caught what looked like a rifle quickly broke it into two parts, stashed them into his large open toolbox, and walked away. Just behind the Grassy Knoll with its picket fence then was a parking lot and extensive rail yards, just the kind of place for a workman with a tool box to disappear into. The official investigators chose to ignore this witness. Most people who ‘heard” a story like that from a witness speaking in sign language would take it very seriously. After all, in a sense it requires a great of extra effort for such a witness to give his testimony and I think that adds to its credibility.

Why was the immensely important evidence of the presidential limousine so quickly destroyed? The car was sent back to the manufacturer near Detroit to be rebuilt instead of being preserved for serious and extended forensic study. The interior was, of course, spattered with blood, but it also contained bits of bullets and marks from bullets, things which were very important evidence.

There were witnesses at the hospital, when the car was briefly parked in front to deliver the mortally-wounded president, who testified that there were both a bullet crease on the windshield’s chrome frame and a small hole in the windshield’s glass. Shouldn’t this have been preserved for close study and to reassure people that every detail was scrutinized? But it was not. Why? Even if the car was rebuilt, key pieces like the windshield or the rear interior could easily have been set aside, as were so many more trivial objects that found their way into the National Archives.

The most important single piece of evidence in the case, the Zapruder film, has its own remarkable story. The film was purchased from Abraham Zapruder, who happened to be standing on the concrete pergola along part of the Grassy Knoll taking home movies of the parade (just a note, his position was hidden by trees or shrubbery from the position further along the picket fence from which at least one assassin fired). His film was purchased by Life Magazine for what was then a very large amount of money. Actually, you might have thought it should have been seized by local police or FBI as evidence, but for some unknown reason, this single most important piece of evidence ended up in private commercial hands.

Apart from the police not seizing key evidence, what is wrong with that, you might ask? Well, it is just a fact that Henry Luce’s Time-Life publications in those days often worked with and served as covers for the CIA. Allen Dulles was part of Luce’s social circle. Luce himself wrote a famous article in the 1940s called “The American Century,” the title becoming a frequently-used expression, and he was an ardent supporter of the values we associate with the Washington establishment, especially with the CIA.

It is no secret that the Luce newsmagazines were considered as important keys on the CIA’s “mighty Wurlitzer,” as one former agent referred to the list of publications and writers that was regularly used in getting a story “out there” to the public.

The film was withheld from the general public for a long time. Why should that be? We even had Dan Rather on CBS Television do a little broadcast of what he saw when supposedly shown the film in private. His was a completely false description, as you may easily see for yourself (see FOOTNOTE). Why was that required, a deliberate false description broadcast by one of the most well-known men in American broadcasting? One can only be sure Rather did not just decide on his own to do this or that his broadcast had anything to do with Oswald, except to support the unproved notion that Oswald, supposedly behind the president on the sixth floor of the Texas Book Depository building, was the sole assassin, an idea that had been set in stone early by J. Edgar Hoover.

We have testimony that the film was delivered to a quickly-assembled group of specialists at CIA by hand. They worked into the wee hours to assemble a “story board” for some very high-level presentation. There’s nothing wrong with that, but at a later date, one of these technicians was shown what we now understand as the Zapruder film, and he said that it clearly was not the original film.

Importantly, the halo we now see above Kennedy’s head as a bullet struck was not on the original film. Instead there was a cone-shaped ejection from the rear of Kennedy’s head. That ejection would, of course, suggest a shot from the front, and it would also support other testimonies as that of a police outrider on his motorcycle being spattered with blood and brain tissue. That simply could not happen with a shot from where Oswald supposedly was.

The film, as we know it, has been altered. You see, we know an early copy of the film – three had been made – was delivered also to the CIA’s top photo lab in Rochester for work. This was a lab in which almost anything possible to do with film could be done. The world’s best equipment and top experts worked there. We do not know what was done, but considering the comment, above, of the technician who worked on what definitely was the original film, it would appear changes were made to a copy that resulted in the film we now see.

There are a great many more such serious issues left totally unresolved today, the kind of issues which should not be unresolved with the most ordinary murder, let alone the murder of a president. Perhaps the greatest set of issues is around the President’s autopsy. There is a huge set of issues here, and I won’t go through them all. Several entire books have been written on the topic, including the very important “Best Evidence” by David Lifton. I’ll mention only a few glaring matters.

In the Zapruder film, we see President Kennedy, his car emerging from behind a freeway sign, grasping at his throat with both hands. Clearly, even in the altered film we have – and there is reason to believe that this emergence-from-behind-the-sign sequence was also altered – Kennedy was hit by a bullet in the throat. The emergency medical people attending him – all experienced, very senior people – later described the wound as a small puncture wound just above the knot of his necktie, a puncture wound with bullets invariably indicating an entrance wound. A tracheotomy was performed – involving two tiny slits (about two centimeters long) on the sides of the wound – to accommodate the insertion of a tube for emergency breathing.

Now at some point in time later, autopsy photos of the President were taken by someone and distributed to the press. Some of them are strange and mysterious photos, poorly lighted, not always well focused, and in black-and-white – not at all to the standard of official autopsy photos of the time. The most striking one is of Kennedy on his back with his eyes still open. There is a sizable gash in the center of his throat, big enough to almost resemble someone having started to try slashing his throat. This was what the official autopsy doctors and technicians saw, and it bears no resemblance to what was described in Dallas. This strange wound ended-up being called an exit wound for a bullet which entered Kennedy from behind – in other words, the direction of the bullet making it was reversed.

The official autopsy notes, which of course in a murder case becomes an important legal document, were destroyed later and burned by the doctor writing his report. He wrote fresh ones, and we have often been given the silly excuse (silly certainly when it comes to matters like an autopsy) that this was because the original notes had blood on them. This destruction was an illegal act.

Of course, legality played very little role in how the President’s body was treated. We know that local officials in Dallas demanded that the body be autopsied there, as required by law, and a literal fight broke out with the Secret Service drawing guns to wheel the body away. The body was flown to Washington along with Mrs. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. Even its treatment then is seriously in doubt with many bits of evidence suggesting it was not even in the coffin brought along with Mrs. Kennedy to the autopsy hospital. Instead it appears to have been delivered in the rear in a kind of cheap shipping coffin.

The importance of this lies in the fact that we have testimonies that the President’s body, when received for formal autopsy, had already had some medical work done on it. The technician receiving and opening the shipping case has described what he found which you can read in Lifton’s book.

Further, and very importantly, two FBI agents who attended the autopsy made notes which became an official record apart from the doctor’s report. Two riveting small items are in that FBI write-up. The first involves the agents’ description, before the autopsy was started, of the body as having had some “surgery about the head.” We are given no details. The second is a tiny mention of receiving a “missile” removed from the President by one of the doctors. Again, no details. Was this missile the bullet that we believe entered Kennedy’s neck from the front?

We don’t know exactly what happened to the President’s body in being moved from Dallas to Washington. Was his body ever in the casket with Mrs. Kennedy and President Johnson? Had it been sent off separately for the quickest possible receipt in Washington? Or was it surreptitiously removed aboard the plane? The fact is that work was done on the body by someone somewhere in Washington before the official autopsy seems beyond dispute. The autopsy proper, an event with a number of generals and admirals and big suits standing in the room as witnesses, must have been a very bizarre event. Why were they necessary?

Why was the autopsy even held in a military facility with military doctors and many high-ranking military men watching and even sometimes telling the doctors what to do, as one of the doctors related years later? The military autopsy doctors did not compare in expertise to the pathologist in a large American city like Dallas where shootings are frequent. But of course, military doctors follow orders.

Another intriguing and unexplained event involving the trip back to Washington was Lyndon Johnson’s insistence on being sworn into office. We’ve all seen the photos taken inside the plane. Poor Mrs. Kennedy had to stand there in a confined space, still in her blood-spattered clothes, watching the man she knew her husband distrusted being sworn into office. It was all completely unnecessary. Was Johnson subjecting the Kennedy family to some kind of degradation ceremony? It was possible with this unbelievably crude man, a man who, as President in the White House, is known for behaviors like talking to reporters while sitting on the toilet and once, in response to a question about why America was in Vietnam, unzipping his pants and pulling out his penis, saying something like, “See, this is why.”

Of course, once Johnson was sworn into office and had possession of the “best evidence,” Kennedy’s body, a fundamental division in post-assassination events occurred. Attention in many respects shifted to Washington rather than remaining where it should have been, the scene of the crime in Dallas. Johnson could, with the cooperation of people like the admired and admiring J. Edgar Hoover, direct the way events unfolded, and he very much did. Bobby Kennedy’s authority was imperceptibly, to outsiders, reduced to that of a token office holder. Within a week, the Warren Commission was appointed, a commission whose job was twisted badly from the beginning.

Earl Warren did not want to serve as Chairman of the Commission, but Johnson used a suggestive and threatening line, delivered in a theatrical tone of voice, to convince him otherwise, a line he used on many people at the time. It went something like, “If you knew what I know, the lives of tens of millions could be at risk in these events.” Well, what responsible high official could turn down an appeal put in those terms? It was a complete lie of course, but it had not been that long since the Cuban Missile Crisis, and memories of those truly frightening events were fresh.

The terms establishing the Warren Commission virtually guaranteed its failure. Most importantly, the FBI did all the investigation, Hoover’s FBI, that is. Hoover, the man who extraordinarily-early had said they had their man in Oswald. Also, behind the scenes there was Johnson’s often repeated, “If you knew what I know, the lives of tens of millions could be at risk in these events.” So, it was essential that findings be established quickly to avoid some vaguely-forecast catastrophe. Since Hoover considered that they already had their man, it was only necessary to collect a big pile of tidbits supporting that conclusion, and that is precisely what was done.

Those who are familiar with the Warren Report understand that it is just one long prosecutor’s brief. It is not an objective effort in the least. Indeed, at times it goes so far out of its way to be unfair, it is embarrassing to an honest mind. None of the Commission’s activities reflected the standard rules of courts with arguments and evidence from both sides. In essence, it is a document which cast aside all principles of normal justice and fair procedure to declare a dead man guilty of murder with a carefully-selected pile of exhibits and witnesses, that man having no proper representation even in the proceedings, and certainly no other person or group was even considered worthy of investigation.

Why was it necessary to do things in that fashion? If you wanted to find the truth, you would never proceed that way, but it is just what you would do if you wanted to get a story “out there,” and out there with an impressive shelf-full of books which resemble the client-confidence props you see in every lawyer’s office. The twenty-six volumes of “evidence” published after the 889-page report were so carelessly assembled that no index was provided. Imagine, publishing the equivalent of a huge encyclopedia of photos and transcripts and exhibits with no way of finding anything? And as all researchers know, the way in which these were thrown together, literally in a jumble, makes an index even more necessary. It did serve, though, to slow mightily all efforts for independent checking of the report’s claims. You see, even though exhibits and witnesses were carefully selected and many witnesses were guided as what to say by FBI agents, the vast pile does contain some interesting information, a good deal of it suggesting the Commission’s conclusions were often not well-considered and even deceptive.

There are many anecdotes demonstrating the “agenda” of the Commission and that of its investigative arm, the FBI, but my favorite one is when the Chairman, Earl Warren, visited Jack Ruby in his Dallas cell, Ruby having killed Oswald on national television and in the police station. Ruby literally told Warren that if he wanted him to talk about the truth, he must take him to Washington. He strongly suggested that events hadn’t been as they appeared. He pretty close to begged Warren, saying it was not safe in Dallas for him to talk.

This was all said in Ruby’s usual gangster-like, twisted and garbled speech, but what he was saying couldn’t be clearer. And who could doubt the matter of safety with a police department riddled with corruption and dark secrets, some of whose members clearly had assisted Ruby in his tasks and some of whose members had so badly handled pieces of evidence that they became legally useless?

Warren told Ruby that that would not be possible. Why would that be? Who would have argued with the Commission Chairman and former Chief Justice if he said that is what he wanted to do to secure vital information? No one, of course. So much for Warren’s battle for truth.



Some might say that my assertion that there is little new in the latest batch of released documents is wrong, pointing to the FBI Memo sent by Manning C Clements in 1964, and reporting the words of one Oren Potito in Florida. That memo is only eyebrow-raising for those who have not studied the assassination. The bullet hole in the windshield of Kennedy’s limousine has been known about for years, and it is discussed in a number of books.

As far as the memo’s mentioning Kennedy’s throat wound being from the front, the entire expert emergency staff treating Kennedy said that to the public in 1963, although every effort was made over the years to contradict their words and to disguise evidence. The real original purpose of this memo appears to have been to label both Jack Ruby and Oswald as communists, a completely false assertion. It seems also to almost suggest a fallback position from Hoover’s early absolute insistence that only Oswald was the killer and that he was a communist. No matter how many did it, in a word, they had to be communists.

Footage of Death Plays On in Memory

Before Nov. 22, 1963, Abraham Zapruder was an ordinary citizen of Dallas: a 58-year-old prosperous manufacturer of women’s clothing who had arrived in the city from Russia by way of Brooklyn. If that day had unfolded differently, that is most likely what he would have remained. But like a small but growing number of Americans at the time, he was also a home-movie hobbyist. With his receptionist, Marilyn Sitzman, as location scout and technical support, Zapruder took his 414PD Director Series Bell and Howell 8-millimeter camera to a spot on Elm Street, not far from his office, hoping to film the presidential motorcade as it drove past.

The 26.6 seconds of footage he captured — 486 frames, without sound — inscribed Zapruder’s name in the official history and popular folklore of the John F. Kennedy assassination. Its images, blurry yet vivid, in color when almost all television and a great many movies were still in black and white, form part of what we know or think we know about what happened at Dealey Plaza. On the Web, you can find seemingly infinite versions: in slow motion, with musical accompaniment, with or without Kevin Costner’s explanation and Oliver Stone’s enhancements in “JFK.” And you can encounter an equal number of arguments about what those silent, shaky frames mean: that Oswald acted alone that other shooters were present that a conspiracy came to fruition in plain sight that the truth will never be known.

The distance between 1963 and now can be measured by the fact that so few cameras were on the scene then. In retrospect, Zapruder can be seen — and is frequently cited — as a pioneer of citizen journalism, a resourceful amateur who caught something crucial that the professional news media somehow missed. Now, everyone with a smartphone is a potential Zapruder.

But while the Zapruder film holds an important place in the evolution of media — perceptively examined by Alex Pasternack in an article on Vice’s Motherboard site this year — it also belongs to the story of cinema. What Zapruder made, after all, was not a Vine or a YouTube post, but a film. This is partly a technical distinction, a matter of photochemical processes and separable frames as opposed to bits of digital information. For a dozen years after it was shot, the film was unseen by the public, an almost unthinkable fate now. But these material, technological facts are inseparable from the film’s meaning, which remains a singularly potent topic of argument.


In a 1993 interview in The Paris Review, Don DeLillo, our leading literary investigator of the epistemological shadowlands of American politics and technology, made a distinction between Kennedy’s assassination, which was captured on film, and the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald, which happened in front of television cameras. As a result, “Oswald’s death became instantly repeatable,” he said. “It belonged to everyone. The Zapruder film, the film of Kennedy’s death, was sold and hoarded and doled out very selectively. It was exclusive footage.”

The near-simultaneity of these two events, and the different ways that the moving pictures were made and distributed, reveal late November 1963 as one of those moments when the coordinates of history become visible. The televised shooting of Oswald by Jack Ruby was a harbinger of the future — a future that would include the moon landing, the Rodney King beating, the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle and the second plane striking the World Trade Center. Television, as Mr. DeLillo understood it, was a medium of instantaneous transmission and endless reiteration, a template (though this was not clear at the time) for the digital world we now inhabit.

Kennedy was a youthful agent and symbol of the emerging video future, telegenic before that word was widely used. His televised debates with Richard M. Nixon showed his mastery of a medium not yet central to the politician’s repertory, and he nimbly used it during his presidency to address the nation in times of crisis. But he also belonged, less obviously but perhaps more decisively, to the world of film. In 1963, film was both more established, and more prestigious it was an ascendant cultural force. To Mr. DeLillo, there was “something inevitable about the Zapruder film. It had to happen this way. The moment belongs to the 20th century, which means it had to be captured on film.”

In 1960, Kennedy won the Democratic nomination at a convention held in Los Angeles, and his Hollywood connections — Peter Lawford, the actor and minor Rat Packer, was his brother-in-law — were already part of his mystique, as was the movie-star luminescence that he and his wife, Jacqueline, so effortlessly projected. Covering the convention for Esquire, Norman Mailer noted the contrast between Kennedy and his older, less charismatic rivals. Mailer found the future president to be magnetic but also enigmatic, a man very much aware of, and able to exploit, the gap between image and substance:

“Perhaps one can give a sense of the discrepancy by saying that he was like an actor who had been cast as the candidate, a good actor, but not a great one — you were aware all the time that the role was one thing and the man another — they did not coincide, the actor seemed a touch too aloof (as, let us say, Gregory Peck is usually too aloof) to become the part. Yet one had little sense of whether to value this elusiveness, or to beware of it. One could be witnessing the fortitude of a superior sensitivity or the detachment of a man who was not quite real to himself.”

The kind of self-consciousness Mailer is describing was of a piece with the cinematic style of the times. In “The Big Screen,” his recent, comprehensive history of moving pictures from Edison to yesterday, the critic David Thomson identifies the late 1950s and early ‘60s as the era of “film studies,” by which he means not only a nascent academic discipline, but also an attitude shared by filmmakers and audiences. One sign was the adoption of the word “film” as a badge of cultural distinction and artistic seriousness. Where “movies” had been a form of popular entertainment, mass produced and passively consumed, “film” was an artistic discipline, capable of and receptive to sustained critical analysis. Though film had been around for more than half a century, its essence and potential were seemingly only beginning to be discovered and discussed, in the work of self-aware, historically informed directors and newly serious critics, notably the former critics who set off the French New Wave.

One way this impulse expressed itself was in a drive to strip away literary affectation and theatrical artifice in favor of a direct engagement with reality, in both fictional and nonfictional work. Lightweight cameras and portable sound recorders made it possible, as never before, for film to grab hold of the rhythm of life as it happened, to plunge viewers into the welter of unfolding events. And these technical advances gave rise to an ideology, especially in the ranks of documentary filmmakers, that placed great value on the power of honest, unembellished and uninflected images. The old apparatus of nonfiction storytelling — direct-to-camera interviews, voice-over narration, staged re-enactments — were minimized or jettisoned altogether, and a new style came into being, known as direct cinema and also (more widely if also more controversially) as cinéma vérité.

Join Times theater reporter Michael Paulson in conversation with Lin-Manuel Miranda, catch a performance from Shakespeare in the Park and more as we explore signs of hope in a changed city. For a year, the “Offstage” series has followed theater through a shutdown. Now we’re looking at its rebound.

John F. Kennedy may have been, metaphorically, the first movie-star president, but before he was elected, he was literally a star of cinéma vérité. A groundbreaking direct cinema documentary, “Primary,” directed by Robert Drew and Richard Leacock, followed Kennedy and one of his Democratic rivals, Senator Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota, as they campaigned in Wisconsin in spring 1960. With only occasional glances at the camera, the candidates give speeches, shake hands, huddle with aides, talk on the phone and zone out in cars and buses. Information about where they are, whom they are talking to and what they stand for must be gleaned from the busy sound mix, and the film is more a collage of faces and voices than a neat political drama. (The ending is inconclusive: Kennedy wins more districts than Humphrey, but not enough to knock out his opponent or to sway the outcome of the convention, where the nomination will be decided.)

There is also a captivating sense of intimacy, in particular when Kennedy is on camera. The contrasts are clear enough — Midwestern and Eastern, Protestant and Catholic, hat-wearing and bareheaded — but more notable is the mixture of ease and elusiveness that Mailer would detect a few months later. Kennedy seems open, friendly and unaffected, whether he is speaking at a union hall, signing autographs for schoolchildren in the street or nursing the stub of a cigar as he waits for returns in a hotel room. But there is also an opaque quality about him, an opacity that confirms the vérité documentarian’s hunch about the world: it can be seen and known, but not necessarily explained.

In a 1962 interview, which is included in the DVD of “Primary,” Mr. Drew described what he was after as “theater without actors, plays without playwrights, reporting without summary and opinion, the ability to look in on people’s lives at crucial times” so that the viewer could “see a kind of truth that can only be gotten by personal experience.” Kennedy was a perfect subject for this kind of inquiry, which turned out to have a particular affinity with certain kinds of celebrity. The camera operators on “Primary” included D. A. Pennebaker, who would later follow the ever-mysterious Bob Dylan to England in “Don’t Look Back,” and Albert Maysles, who (with his brother David) would unmask the Rolling Stones in “Gimme Shelter.”

Mr. Drew would return to Kennedy’s White House in the summer of 1963 for “Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment,” a behind-the-scenes look, from all sides, at the collision between the administration and Gov. George Wallace of Alabama over the enrollment of two African-American students at the state university. The president is overshadowed by the other players — notably his brother Robert, and Governor Wallace — but the sense of witnessing momentous public events through the participants’ personal experiences is even stronger than in “Primary.” So is the feeling that what you are seeing cannot quite be summarized. Reality is too rough, too complicated, to be assigned a fixed, comfortable meaning.

Of course, the impulse to find such meaning may be stronger than the idealism of direct cinema. Which brings us back to Zapruder, an inadvertent practitioner of cinéma vérité and an unwitting discoverer of its limits. He was an amateur, not an auteur, and never undertook the exhaustive editing that is the cornerstone of the vérité ethic. But there is no doubt that his short film is a document of personal experience, and a grisly, complicated slice of real life.

That may be why it has been unable to resist interpretation. It is surely, frame by frame, the most closely studied, exhaustively analyzed film ever made, and also one of the most widely imitated. It has become, in spite of itself, an aesthetic object. Mr. Stone may have deployed the Zapruder film in “JFK” to clinch what he saw as the truth of his argument about who really killed Kennedy, but he succeeded in introducing a generation of moviegoers to its hallucinatory beauty.

Mr. Stone also demonstrated (though he was hardly the first to do so) that cinematic authenticity can be a matter of special effects. The look and feel of vérité can be evoked by changing lenses, angles and formats, even if real life isn’t in the picture. The Zapruder film remains powerful partly because it seems to dwell in a zone of ambiguity that has become, over the years, a more and more familiar place. We accept it as true, without knowing what it means. Or, as Don DeLillo put it, referring explicitly, but surely not exclusively, to the Kennedy assassination: “We’re still in the dark. What we finally have are patches and shadows. It’s still a mystery.”