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Film: Zapruder Film
The most famous and most important home movie ever made.

In 1963 Abraham Zapruder was a 58-year-old Dallas resident who owned a downtown clothing business. Upon hearing that President John F. Kennedy's motorcade was going to pass close by his place of work, Zapruder took his 8-mm Bell & Howell Zoomatic home movie camera and went to Dealey Plaza to film the motorcade. Zapruder stood atop a concrete column on the north side of Elm Street, with his receptionist Marilyn Sitzman standing behind him to steady him. He took 26.6 seconds of footage over 486 frames. The film opens with a brief shot of police motorcycles, after which Zapruder stopped filming, realizing that the presidential car hadn't yet arrived. The footage then picks up with the presidential car after it turned on to Elm Street, then shows the reactions of Kennedy and Governor John Connally after the car passes from behind a freeway sign, then shows in graphic detail the head shot that killed Kennedy as the car passed directly in front of Zapruder. Zapruder kept filming until the car went under the triple overpass to his right.

Still frames from the film were published in the next week's LIFE Magazine, and drawings based on the film were included in the 1967 book Six Seconds in Dallas, but the film was not shown for the American public until it was aired on ABC in 1975. It is now widely available on the Internet in various formats—digitally cleaned up versions, versions centering on the occupants of the car in close-up, and frame-by-frame presentations (see here). Abraham Zapruder died in 1970. After years of litigation the Zapruder family sold the original film to the U.S. government in 1999 for $16 million. Both the film and Zapruder's camera are the property of the National Archives. The Zapruder family donated the copyright of the film to the Sixth Floor Museum in 1999.

Home movies taken by observers Marie Muchmore, Orville Nix, and Charles Bronson depict the fatal headshot, but none with as much clarity or nearly as close as the Zapruder film. The Zapruder film was inducted in the National Film Registry with the class of 1994.


Tropes:

  • Boom, Headshot: See Pink Mist below. Not all that difficult a shot for someone who knows how to use a rifle, as Lee Oswald the ex-Marine did.
  • Downer Ending: President Kennedy would not survive his gunshot wounds.
  • Fridge Horror: We're basically watching one of the most horrific murders in American history.
  • In the Back: Kennedy was shot in the upper back and back of the head as he rode in an open car. Presidents don't ride in open cars anymore.
  • Person with the Clothing: The Tinfoil Hat brigade and others often refer to individuals shown in the Zapruder film in this manner. One interesting mystery is that of the "Babushka Lady". A woman in a coat and head scarf (hence "Babushka Lady") is shown from frames 275 to 296, on the opposite side of Elm Street. She appears to be snapping pictures which would have been of great interest to historians and investigators. Her identity is unknown.
  • Pink Mist: A graphic and disturbing Real Life example. Frame 313 depicts the right side of the president's head exploding into a cloud of blood and bone fragments and brain matter.
  • Quieter Than Silence: There was no sound recording made with the film, meaning viewers are watching this in total silence. (Any audio version would most likely be mixed in with the police dictabelt recordings made of that day)
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: See Who Shot JFK? below.
  • Who Shot JFK?: The airing of the Zapruder film on television in 1975, and specifically the "back and to the left" motion lampshaded in the film JFK, ignited the skepticism of the Oswald-acted-alone theory which persists to this day. For the record, nothing in the film is inconsistent with the official theory that Kennedy was shot by a sniper firing from above and from the rear. The seemingly inexplicable motion of Kennedy's head was confirmed to be something that really happens by experimentation with sheep and with watermelons designed to mimic the human skull.

Yesterday, Today, and TomorrowFilms of the 1960s7 Faces of Dr. Lao
The Manchurian CandidateUsefulNotes/National Film RegistryMidnight Cowboy

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