Zapruder film

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Frame 150 from the Zapruder Film

The Zapruder film is a silent Standard 8 mm color home movie of the presidential motorcade of John F. Kennedy through Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963, filmed by a private citizen named Abraham Zapruder. The film is the most complete visual recording of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.


[edit] Background

[edit] Location and time

Zapruder filmed the Presidential motorcade while being steadied by his receptionist, Marilyn Sitzman, standing on top of the most western of the two concrete pedestals that extend from the John Neely Bryan north pergola concrete structure overlooking Elm Street in Dealey Plaza, Dallas, Texas at 12:30 pm Central Standard Time, November 22, 1963. The film depicts the presidential limousine from the time it completed its turn onto Elm Street until it passed out of view under a railway overpass. Of greatest notoriety is the film's depiction of a fatal shot to President Kennedy's head when his limousine was almost exactly in front of and slightly below Zapruder's position.

[edit] Technical specifications

Zapruder filmed the scene with a Model 414 PD Bell & Howell Zoomatic Director Series Camera that operated via a spring-wound mechanism. The FBI later tested Zapruder's camera and found that it filmed an average of 18.3 frames per second (slightly deviating from the camera's standard frame rate of 18 frame/s).[1] The entire film sequence depicting events in Dealey Plaza consists of 486 frames, or 26.6 seconds. The presidential limousine can be seen in 343 of the frames, or 18.7 seconds. The film is recorded on Kodak Kodachrome II 8 mm movie safety film (standard 8 mm, shot on 16 mm film holding two strips of images, then split into two 8mm strips after processing).

[edit] Warren Commission analysis

The film was examined by the Warren Commission and all subsequent investigations into the assassination. The Zapruder frames used by the Warren Commission were published in black and white as Commission Exhibit 885 in volume XVIII of the Hearings and Exhibits.[2] Frames of the film have also been published in several magazines, and the film was featured in several movies. Copies of the complete film are available on the Internet.[3][4][5][6][7]

In 1994, the Zapruder film footage was deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress and was selected for permanent preservation in the National Film Registry.

[edit] Other films of the assassination

Zapruder's film is the most complete movie of the assassination, as it depicts a relatively clear view of the motorcade from a somewhat elevated position. No existant film shows clearly the critical portion of the infamous "grassy knoll" from which many claim shots were fired, and none depict better detail of the presidential limousine than the Zapruder film. However, it is not the only film depicting the presidential limousine on Elm Street. There are films and still photographs taken by at least 32 photographers in Dealey Plaza at or around the time of the shooting,[8] including: F. Mark Bell, Charles Bronson (not the actor with the same name), Malcolm Couch, Elsie Dorman, Robert J. E. Hughes, John Martin, Charles Mentesana, Marie Muchmore, Orville Nix, Patsy Paschall, and Tina Towner, along with an unidentified "Babushka lady." The films by Orville Nix, Marie Muchmore, and Charles Bronson depict the fatal head shot seen in the Zapruder film, and the films of Bronson and Hughes show the open sixth floor window of the Texas School Book Depository.[9]

On February 19, 2007, a film shot by George Jefferies was released.[10] The color 8 mm film, taken on Main Street in Dallas approximately 90 seconds before the shooting, has the best view of Jackie Kennedy in the motorcade and the positions of the Secret Service agents before the shooting, and also clearly shows that President Kennedy's suit coat was bunched up around the neckline. This fact would seem to repudiate theories identifying the mismatch between the wound in the President's back and the holes in his suit and shirt as evidence that more than three shots were fired.

[edit] History

The Zapruder film was developed by Eastman Kodak in Dallas after 3:00 p.m. on the afternoon of November 22, as Zapruder waited. He then took the original to the Jamieson Film Company in Dallas about 6:30 p.m., where three copies were made from the original. The copies were taken back to Kodak around 8:00 p.m. to be developed. Zapruder retained the original and one copy, and that night gave the other two copies to the Dallas office of the Secret Service for their investigation. On the morning of November 23, Zapruder sold the print rights to Life magazine (owned by Time Inc.) for $50,000, and a Life representative took possession of the original film and the remaining copy, which were immediately dispatched to the magazine's production facilities in Chicago. The following day (November 24), Life purchased all rights to the film for a total of $150,000 (equivalent to $1 million in 2007),[11] payable in six annual payments of $25,000. Zapruder donated the initial payment of $25,000 to the widow and children of Dallas policeman J.D. Tippit, who was murdered by alleged Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald when confronted following the assassination.

The November 29, 1963 issue of Life – which featured the "LIFE" logo in a black box instead of the usual red box – published about 30 frames of the Zapruder film in black and white. Frames were also published in color in the December 6, 1963 special "John F. Kennedy Memorial Edition", and in issues dated October 2, 1964 (a special article on the film and the Warren Commission report), November 25, 1966, and November 24, 1967.

One of the first-generation Secret Service copies was loaned to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Washington, which made a second-generation copy on November 25. After study of that copy in January 1964, the Warren Commission judged the quality to be inadequate, and requested the original. Life brought the original to Washington in February for the Commission's viewing, and also made color 35mm slide enlargements from the relevant frames of the original film for the FBI. From those slides, the FBI made a series of black and white prints, which were given to the commission for its use.

In October 1964, the U.S. Government Printing Office released 26 volumes of testimony and evidence compiled by the Warren Commission. Volume 18 of the commission's hearings reproduced 158 frames of the Zapruder film in black and white. However, frames 208–211 were missing, a splice was visible in frames 207 and 212, frames 314 and 315 were switched, and frame 284 was a repeat of 283.[12] In reply to an inquiry, the FBI's J. Edgar Hoover wrote in 1965 that 314 and 315 were switched due to a printing error, and that the error did not exist in the original Warren Commission exhibits. In early 1967, Life released a statement that four frames of the camera original (208–211) had been accidentally destroyed, and the adjacent frames damaged, by a Life photo lab technician on November 23, 1963. Life released the missing frames from the first-generation copy it had received from Zapruder with the original.[13] (Of the Zapruder frames outside the section used in the commission's exhibits, frames 155–157 and 341 were also damaged and spliced out of the camera original, but are present in the first-generation copies.)

In 1966, assassination researcher Josiah Thompson, while working for Life, was allowed to examine a first-generation copy of the film and a set of color 35mm slides made from the original. He tried to negotiate with Life for the rights to print important individual frames in his book, Six Seconds in Dallas. Life refused to approve the use of any of the frames, even after Thompson offered to give all profits from the book sales to Life. When Thompson's book was published in 1967, it included very detailed charcoal drawings of important individual frames, plus photo reproductions of the four missing frames. Time Inc. filed a lawsuit against Thompson and his publishing company for copyright infringement. A U.S. District Court ruled in 1968 that the Time Inc. copyright of the Zapruder film had not been violated by invoking the doctrine of fair use. The court held that "there is a public interest in having the fullest information available on the murder of President Kennedy. Thompson did serious work on the subject and has a theory entitled to public consideration … [I]t has been found that the copying by defendants was fair and reasonable."[14]

In 1967, Life magazine hired a New Jersey film lab, Manhattan Effects, to make a 16 mm film copy of the original Zapruder film. Pleased with the results, they asked for a 35 mm internegative to be made. Mo Weitzman made several internegatives in 1968, giving the best to Life and retaining the test copies. Weitzman set up his own optical house and motion picture postproduction facility later that year. Employee and assassination buff Robert Groden, hired in 1969, used one of Weitzman's copies and an optical printer to make versions of the Zapruder film using close-ups and minimizing the camera's shakiness.

Prior to the 1969 trial of New Orleans businessman Clay Shaw for conspiracy in connection with the assassination, a copy of the film several generations from the original was subpoenaed from Time Inc. in 1967 by New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison for use at Shaw's grand jury hearing. Garrison unsuccessfully subpoenaed the original film in 1968. The courtroom showings of Garrison's copy in 1969 were the first time it had been shown in public as a film.

In March 1975, on the ABC late-night television show Good Night America (hosted by Geraldo Rivera), assassination researchers Robert Groden and Dick Gregory presented the first-ever network television showing of the Zapruder home movie. The public's response and outrage to that first television showing quickly led to the forming of the Hart-Schweiker investigation, contributed to the Church Committee Investigation on Intelligence Activities by the United States, and resulted in the House Select Committee on Assassinations investigation.

In April 1975, in settlement of a royalties suit between Time Inc. and Zapruder's heirs that arose from the ABC showing, Time Inc. sold the original film and its copyright back to the Zapruder family for the token sum of $1. Time Inc. wanted to donate the film to the U.S. government. The Zapruder family initially refused to consent, but in 1978 the family transferred the film to the National Archives and Records Administration for appropriate preservation and safe-keeping, while still retaining ownership of the film and its copyright. Director Oliver Stone paid approximately $85,000 to the Zapruder family for use of the Zapruder film in his motion picture JFK (1991).

On October 26, 1992, President George H. W. Bush signed into law the John F. Kennedy Records Collection Act of 1992 (the "JFK Act"), which sought to preserve for historical and governmental purposes all records related to the assassination of President Kennedy. The Act created the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection at the National Archives. The Zapruder film was automatically designated an "assassination record" and therefore became official property of the United States government. When the Zapruder family demanded the return of the original film in 1993 and 1994, National Archives officials refused to comply.

On April 24, 1997, the Assassination Records Review Board, which was created by the JFK Act, announced a "Statement of Policy and Intent with Regard to the Zapruder Film". The ARRB re-affirmed that the Zapruder Film is an "assassination record" within the meaning of the JFK Act and directed it to be transferred on August 1, 1998 from its present location in NARA's film collection to the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection maintained by NARA.[15] As required by law for such a seizure under eminent domain, payment to Zapruder's heirs was attempted. Because the film is unique, the film's value was difficult to ascertain; eventually, following arbitration with the Zapruder heirs, the government purchased the film in 1999 for $16 million.

The Zapruder family retained copyright to the film, which was not seized. In 1997, the film was digitally replicated and restored under license of the Zapruder family. The 1998 documentary Image of an Assassination: A New Look at the Zapruder Film shows the history of the film, as well as various versions of the restored film.

In December 1999, the Zapruder family donated the film's copyright to The Sixth Floor Museum, located in the Texas School Book Depository building at Dealey Plaza, along with one of the first-generation copies made on November 22, 1963, and other copies of the film and frame enlargements once held by Life magazine, which had been since returned.[16] The Zapruder family no longer retains any rights to the film, which rights are now administered by the Museum.

The relevant history of the film is covered in a book by David Wrone called The Zapruder Film: Reframing JFK's Assassination (2003). Wrone is a professor of history who tracks the "chain of evidence" for the film.

[edit] Authenticity

Zapruder testified before the Warren Commission[17] that the frames published in Commission Exhibit 885 were from the film that he took.

Three other films of part of the assassination (the Orville Nix, Marie Muchmore and Charles Bronson films), together with numerous still photographs, are consistent with the Zapruder film, suggesting that they are all authentic.

In 1998, Roland Zavada, a product engineer from Kodak who led the team that invented Kodakchrome II, studied the film at the behest of the National Archives and concluded that the film was an “in camera original” and that any alleged alterations were not feasible.[18] Any attempt to create a false "in camera original" by copying Zapruder's film would leave visible artifacts of "image structure constraints of grain; [and] contrast and modulation transfer function losses.…It has no evidence of optical effects or matte work including granularity, edge effects or fringing, [or] contrast buildup."[19]

Abraham Zapruder's Bell & Howell Zoomatic movie camera, in the collection of the US National Archives

[edit] Does the film provide a complete record?

The Zapruder film has often been seen as a "complete record of the Kennedy assassination". This view is, however, challenged by Max Holland, author of The Kennedy Assassination Tapes, and the professional photographer Johann Rush in a joint editorial piece published by The New York Times on November 22, 2007.[20] Holland and Rush point out that Zapruder temporarily stopped filming at frame 132, when only police motorcycles were visible. When he resumed filming, frame 133 already shows the presidential motorcade in view. This pause could have great significance for the interpretation of the assassination, Holland and Rush suggest. One of the sources of controversy with the Warren Report has been its difficulty in satisfactorily accounting for the sequencing of the assassination. A specific mystery concerns what happened to the one of Oswald's three shots that missed (and how he came to miss at what was assumed to be close range). Holland and Rush argue that the break in the Zapruder film might conceal a first shot earlier than analysts have hitherto assumed, and point out that in this case a horizontal traffic mast would temporarily have obstructed Oswald's view of his target. In the authors' words, "The film, we realize, does not depict an assassination about to commence. It shows one that had already started."

The evidence offered by Holland and Rush to support their theory was effectively challenged in a series of 2007–08 articles[21] by computer animator Dale K. Myers and assassination researcher Todd W. Vaughan which uphold the prevailing belief that Zapruder's film captured the entire shooting sequence.

[edit] Cultural effect

The film's 1975 broadcast on Good Night America ignited widespread public distrust in the findings of the Warren Commission. Perhaps the most controversial effect was the suggestion that an assassin or assassins other than Oswald was involved.

The film has been featured in films or other media, such as the Oliver Stone film JFK, which used the clearest copy of the film available to the public prior to the late 1990s. For example, after the final shot, Jacqueline Kennedy can be seen mouthing what appears to be the words, "Oh, my God!" A closeup from the portion of the film showing the fatal shot to Kennedy's head is also shown in the Clint Eastwood film In the Line of Fire. Other references to the film include the name of Andrew Denton's production company (Zapruder's Other Films Pty Ltd.), a line in the film Enemy of the State in which Will Smith's character jokes that he owns a copy of the film.

Some critics have stated that the violence and shock of this home movie led to a new way of representing violence in 1970s American cinema, in mainstream, in particular indie and underground horror movies.[22][23]

Marilyn Manson has referenced the film and Kennedy in their songs, such as "President Dead" and "Posthuman", the latter of which begins with the lyrics "She’s got eyes like Zapruder".

Ministry has parodied the film in the music video "Reload".

MadTV featured a sketch in which ABC News claimed to have uncovered more of Abraham Zapruder's home movies. Introduced by Pat Kilbane as journalist Sam Donaldson, each clip — birthday parties, family dinners, and other ordinary family events — ended with the assassination of a guest or family member.

The Seinfeld episode "The Boyfriend, Part 1" parodies the Zapruder film scene of JFK.

In The Simpsons episode "Marge In Chains", in which Marge is on trial for shoplifting, prosecutors show the Zapruder film and assert that she was present on the grassy knoll when Kennedy was assassinated.

In the film Watchmen, the assassination is shown from an angle reminiscent of the Zapruder film. After the fatal shot, the camera pans to reveal the Comedian sitting with a rifle on the grassy knoll.

[edit] References

  1. ^ Richard B. Trask, Photographic Memory: The Kennedy Assassination, November 22, 1963, Dallas: Sixth Floor Museum, 1996, p. 5. While earlier 8 mm cameras had used a 16 frame/s rate, the 8 mm standard was moving to 18 frame/s by the 1960s, and that was the frame rate adopted by the Super 8 format in 1966.
  2. ^ Warren Commission Hearings and Exhibits, Vol. XVIII. Online version at the History Matters Archive.
  3. ^ Zapruder Film of JFK Assassination. Requires Flash Player.
  4. ^ Stabilized Version of the Zapruder Film. Requires Flash Player.
  5. ^ Stabilized versions of the Zapruder film. Research quality. Based on the “Costella 2006” frames. Large file sizes. Requires QuickTime viewer from Entire film is covered in six “fixed camera” video clips, plus one “stabilized pan” video clip. Full speed.
  6. ^ All 486 frames of the Zapruder film. The “Costella 2006” frames. Research quality. Does not require special viewers, but not shown in movie form.
  7. ^ [1] Stabilized version which allows frame-by-frame easy forward.
  8. ^ Vincent Bugliosi, Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy. W.W. Norton, 2007, endnotes, p. 291.
  9. ^ List of 500+ Photos Taken on 11/22/63.
  10. ^
  11. ^ The Inflation Calculator, using the Consumer Price Index.
  12. ^ Frames 207 and 212, frames 283 and 284 (actually 283), frame 314 (actually 315), and frame 315 (actually 314).
  13. ^ "Life To Release Today Part of Kennedy Film", New York Times, January 30, 1967, p. 22;
  14. ^ Time Inc. v. Bernard Geis Associates, 293 F.Supp. 130, 146 (D.C.N.Y. 1968).
  15. ^ The film's physical location remained the same, only its record classification changed.
  16. ^ Zapruder Film Press Release, January 18, 2000. The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza.
  17. ^ Warren Commission Hearings and Exhibits, Vol. VII, pp. 569–576. Online version at the History Matters Archive.
  18. ^ Roland J. Zavada, Analysis of Selected Motion Picture Photographic Evidence, 1998.
  19. ^ Rollie Zavada, "Request for Response to Z-film Hoax extracts", 2003.
  20. ^ J.F.K.’s Death, Re-Framed - New York Times
  21. ^ Max Holland's 11 Seconds in Dallas; Holland Deja Vu; Cherry-Picking Evidence of the First Shot
  22. ^ Explorations Underground: American Film (Ad)Ventures Beneath the Hollywood Radar.
  23. ^ (French) 26 secondes: L'Amérique éclaboussée.

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