Zapruder film frame by frame

Video Zapruder film frame by frame

We all know the Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination, that ominously stark home movie that has tainted American political life for the past 50 years. And while it’s certainly not the only filmed account of JFK’s untimely death at the hands of – well, you can start with Lee Harvey Oswald, although it obviously doesn’t end there – it’s the one we refer to most often, the one used by the Warren Commission when they initially investigated the assassination, the one constantly referenced by conspiracy theorists (both good and mad), the one we see in newspapers and blogs whenever the event is mentioned.

Consequently, Abraham Zapruder’s silent 8mm recording, made in Dallas that day, is one of the most studied pieces of film in history. It has repeatedly been called the most important 26 seconds of film ever made. It doesn’t tell us the truth, but it gives the best visual account we’ve got.

So important is the film that every single frame has been analysed. Frame 150 shows Kennedy’s limousine turning on to Elm Street, in Dealey Plaza, moments before the first shot, and it shows the president appearing to wave. Frame 313, meanwhile, captures the fatal shot to the president’s head. Overcome by a sense of shame and, remarkably, still in control of how his film was mediated, Zapruder insisted that this frame be excluded from publication. For instance, the 29 November 1963 issue of Life magazine – which was published exactly a week after Kennedy was shot and featured its logo in a solid black box instead of the usual red one – published about 30 frames of the Zapruder film, excluding 313. This frame was kept largely secret from public view for 12 years after the assassination, when a chat-show host decided to show an uncut version of the film on his programme, Good Night America.

As the motorcade approaches Dealey Plaza, we see JFK’s car emerge from behind a sign that had been temporarily blocking Zapruder’s view. Suddenly, we see the president clutch his throat, as Jackie leans over to attend to him. A moment later, in the infamous frame 313, a large portion of JFK’s head appears to explode. Like they say, once seen, never forgotten. “We like to feel that the world is safe,” the documentary filmmaker Errol Morris said a short while ago. “Safe at least in the sense that we can know about it. The Kennedy assassination is very much an essay on the unsafety of the world. If a man that powerful, that young, that rich, that successful, can just be wiped off the face of the earth in an instant, what does it say about the rest of us?”

I was thinking about this the other day when I received an advance copy of a book at work. It was in the old-fashioned photographic coffee-table format, the one that still appears to be popular with those interior designers responsible for the floor-to-ceiling lobbies and the lateral open-work areas of sassy downtown hotels and concierge apartment blocks. (“Can this be strewn?” you can hear them ask.) Its subject was an indecently well-known rock star, the kind of rock star who on average probably has about 20 books published about him every year. The book was a comprehensive account of a 90-minute shoot a photographer had done with the star on a single afternoon in Los Angeles in 1975, often with the same image reproduced in both colour and black and white, and on closer inspection it appeared that the editors had used every frame of the session. That’s right, every single frame. And this, we now know, appears to be the new reality.

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