» » Zapruder-Film (1963)

Short summary

President John F. Kennedy is shown riding in an open-top car with his wife and several others, waving at crowds on the sidewalk. He is hit by a bullet and clutches his throat as the others react with surprise. Another shot hits Kennedy in the head and he collapses. A Secret Service agent runs up to the car, and Mrs. Kennedy climbs onto the trunk to pull him aboard as the car speeds away.

This is the most studied piece of film in the history of cinematography.

When the film was released publicly in 1975 many people assumed that Mrs. Kennedy jumped on the trunk after the shooting because she was frightened and trying to get out of the way. Some years later the secret service agent who jumped onto the bumper and trunk revealed that she was actually trying to retrieve a piece of the president's brain that had landed on the back of the car.

Although Abraham Zapruder made a profit from selling the film, he was so disturbed by the nightmare he had filmed that he did not keep a copy. He never owned or used another camera again.

Zapruder, always known amongst his peers as a kind man, donated the first payment from the film to the widow of Officer J.D. Tippitt, the Dallas Police Officer who was murdered shortly after and in connection with Kennedy's murder.

Zapruder suffered from vertigo and had to have one of his secretaries, Mrs. Sitzsman, to steady him while he shot the film.

The Kodak Photo Lab in Dallas made several copies of the original for the Secret Service, however they forgot to make a copy for the FBI. The FBI had to make a copy from one of the Secret Service copies which turned out poorly.

The film of President John F. Kennedy's assassination was first taken to Dallas television station WFAA-TV for immediate developing. An ABC affiliate then and now, WFAA-TV was among the first TV stations to broadcast the footage, in 1975, during an episode of Geraldo Rivera's Good Night America (1973) investigative news program.

Frames 220-225 of the film is the most studied because on it the car emerges from behind the street sign. The anguished looks on the faces of President Kennedy and Governor Connally reveal that this was the moment of the second shot (the first hit to hit).

The camera that Abraham Zapruder used in the filming was a mechanical, spring-wound, 8-millimeter Bell & Howell Model 414PD Zoomatic Director, with a Varamat 9-27mm f1.8 zoom lens, set for full close-up. The film was Kodachrome II color stock running at 18.3 frames per second. The footage runs for 26 seconds, which is remarkable because each winding of the camera's mainspring lasts only 30 seconds.

This is not the only film of the Kennedy assassination, but it is the only film that recorded the shooting from beginning to end.

The president is hit in the head at frame 312, and some of his brain matter and blood spray forward at frame 313.

The film begins on Frame 001 as the first police motorcycle turns onto Elm Street and ends on frame 486, a lingering shot of the tunnel under which the car has disappeared from view.

The National Archives stored the film on behalf of Zapruder's heirs, but has since used eminent domain compensation to appropriate the film and now owns the original outright.

The entire length of the film is approximately 3 meters (about 9 feet).

The film was shot from the northwest side of Elm St. facing southeast. The Kennedy motorcade moves from left to right.

User reviews

  • comment
    • Author: Vertokini
    It's the magic of the motion picture. Film has given us the ability to enjoy the memorable performances of actors and actresses long gone, to experience the culture of another era and, indeed, to relive pivotal moments in history over and over again, whether we wish to or not. The assassination of US President John F. Kennedy at 12:30 PM (Central Standard Time) on Friday, November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas was a horrific moment in American history. For decades, endless debate has raged over the true circumstances of his death, spawning countless conspiracy theories and accusations of a CIA cover-up.

    There are films and still photographs taken by at least fourteen photographers in Dealey Plaza during the assassination. Of these, the footage recorded by private citizen Abraham Zapruder is the most complete visual recording of the incident. I'm not one to subscribe to these often-ridiculous conspiracy theories, so now I'll just present the facts: Zapruder captured the scene with a Model 414 PD Bell and Howell Zoomatic Director Series Camera that operated via a spring-wound mechanism, which filmed at an average frame rate of 18.3 frames per second, and recorded on Kodak Kodachrome II 8 mm movie safety film. The footage of the assassination itself runs for a total of 486 frames, or 26.6 seconds. Kennedy's limousine is visible in 343 of the frames, or 18.7 seconds.

    The most infamous image contained in the film is the final fatal shot to President Kennedy's head, almost exactly as the limousine passes directly in front of (and slightly below) Zapruder's position. It is truly a horrid thing to be watching, but sheer morbid human curiosity makes us simply incapable of averting our gaze. Pleasant this film is not, but its significance to American history is irrefutable.
  • comment
    • Author: Beranyle
    This is a strange piece of film to "rate." It's only 26 seconds of some of the most historic (and gruesome) film ever captured -- by chance as much as anything. One wonders what the results would be these days when every third person on the parade route would be wielding a cam-corder.
  • comment
    • Author: Jox
    A piece of history that prooves that most film of historic events is quite often recorded by the general public.

    Also, that previous comment is a prime example of a conspiracy nut (one who blindly believes in the conpsiracy, instead of forming it for themselves) as they seem to ignore the fact that there were many people filming on that in different locations, which perfectly match the spreader film. (also, many of the so called mistakes can be atributed to the fact that it is an old camera that used photographic film that was on a spring based mechanism, which could easily have a speed that is not constant)
  • comment
    • Author: Malodor
    The Zapruder Film is the most remarkable and also one of the most gruesome amateur cine-films ever made. When you watch it , you are literally watching the course of world history change before your eyes. One of the most powerful men in the world at the time is murdered in front of your eyes in such a gruesome way, Kennedy's head literally explodes and the shocking aftermath that follows it. The thing that I find remarkable about it is how quick it happens, from the top of Elm street where Kennedy is smiling and waving to when he gets near the underpass and is life is taken away from him in an instant. Another shocking thing about the film is how slow the Secret Service were in protecting their boss, any reaction by them comes after the event, when it's too late.
  • comment
    • Author: Mash
    While the historic significance of this film is beyond critique, one should also give Herr Zapruder credit for his brilliant cinematography.

    First off he picked one of the best spots to get his shot. Given that he suffered from vertigo one should also credit his willingness to sacrifice his own personal well-being in the service of Art. While he wasn't able to get fully above the Stemmoms Freeway sign, one can only do so much with the set one is given.

    Second of note is his directorial decision to cut when he realised he'd filmed the motorcade too soon. This meant that virtually all of the assassination would be covered in the 30 second allotment covered by the spring wound camera drive mechanism.

    The fact that he was able to keep rolling as all Hell broke loose in Dealey Plaza even has he himself was reacting to the events should've gotten him a press photography award.

    It should be noted that Oswald was almost 3x as far away from Zapruder than any proposed second gunman - he was practically right on top of the so-called Grassy Knoll area and within steps of any plausible sniper lair. One would expect that upon hearing an unsuppressed gunshot from right behind and under him, Zapruder would've whipped around to get a shot. That he didn't should say something about the veracity of 'second gunman' claims.

    At any rate you can tell that the fatal bullet came from behind by a slight forward head movement in the same moment JFK loses the piano lessons - and I was using footage available at a pro-conspiracy site.
  • comment
    • Author: Gholbithris
    This is quite possibly the most monumental piece of live footage ever captured by an amateur photographer. The film of JFK's fatal shooting is, in itself, not particularly entertaining or interesting unless it is in a re-mastered and "shake-free" form. However, the impact of this film on the controversy surrounding one of the most famous assassinations in world history cannot be denied.

    The best showcase for this piece of film can be found in Oliver Stone's brilliant film, JFK.
  • comment
    • Author: Agagamand
    I remember when various stills from this film were printed in LIFE magazine but the actual head shot images were apparently forbidden to be seen at the time. Now this historic piece of film is available to all. It only lasts a few seconds but the important roll it has played in history is legendary. So many theories, questions, debates etc. about the assassination of the 35th president of the United States have been raised over the years and they almost always center around this small strip of film.
  • comment
    • Author: Mysterious Wrench
    This is certainly one of the most significant video documents of the 21st century. As much as the title of the review may apply to president Kennedy, it's the complete opposite for Abraham Zapruder. As intense and heartbreaking as the document is, it would, most likely, even been a lot more haunting if we could hear his reaction to what he just saw.

    There were no television cameras filming the incident and we wouldn't have the actual moment on tape if it hadn't been for this amateur filmer. Would it have been better that way? I don't know. It's truly disturbing and what followed afterward concerning legal consequences and Jack Ruby is utterly frustrating. What saddens me even more than looking at Kennedy in this tape is looking at his wife.
  • comment
    • Author: Debeme
    Definitely one of the few inherently valuable films that is hard to watch/stomach, since it's admittedly an actual snuff film - thankfully, this wasn't Zapruder or Kennedy's intention. All they and everyone else wanted was completely different from what Lee Harvey Oswald wanted. I mourn for everyone involved in this awful tragedy, and this film is crucial evidence that no one should go through this inhumanity. I'm only giving this a recommendation solely because of its historical importance/international impact, as well as its crucial role as evidence for investigators/historians trying to prevent future tragedies. Other than that, I'm so genuinely horrified/disturbed by this truly sickening crime that I need to marathon lighter fare for the rest of my life.
  • comment
    • Author: Goll
    God i wish that was me. Anybody wanna remake this film with me?
  • comment
    • Author: Vuzahn
    The home movie footage that caught the assassination of the American President, John F. Kennedy.

    I had assumed that I had seen this film a dozen times, maybe one hundred times. But I guess I was seeing lower grade copies, and probably just clips, Seeing the complete film, with its 2012 remastering... wow. I had no idea the film was so nasty and gory. It may be one of the more disturbing things you will ever see, and definitely the most disturbing to be considered worth preserving by the Library of Congress.

    The version I saw also had commentary, which seemed a bit questionable, such as the crowd chasing the assassin up the grassy knoll. Was that Zapruder talking or added later? I presume the latter.
  • comment
    • Author: Cemav
    Zapruder Film of Kennedy Assassination (1963)

    It's impossible to "review" this 39-second clip but I think it's safe to say it's probably the most shocking and violent footage that was out there up until 9/11 hit. There's no denying the importance of this film and it's easy to say it's one of the most important bits of footage ever captured and one really has to wonder what would history be like had Abraham Zapruder not been there in Dallas that day filming. I mean, can you imagine if this footage was never shot or if it was never released to the public? These 39-seconds are without question rather hard to watch and it's just amazing that all the key moments of the assassination are captured and at such a good location. I've heard rumors from various conspiracy theories that there's actually more footage but there were bits and pieces removed that clearly showed that there were more shots fired. How true this here actually is will never be know just like the countless other theories out there. There's no audio but that's probably a good thing. Can you imagine the screams and all the chaos that would have been captured even perhaps the words of Zapruder?
  • comment
    • Author: Gold as Heart
    I don't think there's another piece of film that has been more dissected than the Zapruder film. For an amateur with vertigo, I think he did a very commendable job of capturing the scene, even as chaos ensued.

    From the Umbrella Man, to the Black Dog Man, to the Badgeman, this video has been the source of so many alleged "sightings" and conspiracy theories. While gruesome, it is also riveting. You cannot help but look closely at the film--to try to see what others have seen, or to spot something new--up until the goosebump-inducing frames when the President is shot.

    I ultimately gave this 9 out of 10. Honestly, this was arbitrary. How do you put a number on such history?
  • comment
    • Author: Knights from Bernin
    ...and it has yet to receive 5 votes. Granted it's only 26 seconds long, a little more than half the length of Bambi Meets Godzilla, and that darned road sign gets in the way of the camera at such a crucial time.

    It's amazing that Zapruder kept shooting as the real shooting started. We might otherwise have been left with images of running feet and chaos. The film, dissected later in Image of an Assassination - A New Look at the Zapruder Film (1998), clearly shows that the president and John Connolly were hit at different times and from different directions than was concluded by the Warren Commission.

    Or that was one magic loogie.
  • comment
    • Author: Anarus
    This film would be a great piece of history if in fact it was a real film of the Kennedy assassination. The are far too many mistakes in this film for me to point out. It is a film of the Kennedy assassination, but many of the important facts have been altered. There are missing scenes, and many of the scenes, after the president's limo passes the sign, don't fit in. Both Kennedys move noticeably slower then the other four people in front of them. Next time you watch this film look for things that don't add up, such as the Texas Gov. and his, along with the SS men in the front, lunge forward but you can see that the limo is not stopping or slowing down, in fact is is accelerating. This film is clearly an attempt at a cover up.
  • Uncredited cast:
    Charles Brehm Charles Brehm - Himself - Onlooker with Son (uncredited)
    Howard Brennan Howard Brennan - Himself - Onlooker (uncredited)
    John Connally John Connally - Himself - Governor of Texas (uncredited)
    Nellie Connally Nellie Connally - Herself - First Lady of Texas (uncredited)
    William Greer William Greer - Himself - U.S. Secret Service Agent (uncredited)
    Bobby Hargis Bobby Hargis - Himself - Dallas Police Officer (uncredited)
    George W. Hickey George W. Hickey - Himself - U.S. Secret Service Agent (uncredited) (unconfirmed)
    Clint Hill Clint Hill - Himself - U.S. Secret Service Agent (uncredited)
    Jean Hill Jean Hill - Herself - Onlooker in Red Coat (uncredited)
    Roy Kellerman Roy Kellerman - Himself - U.S. Secret Service Agent (uncredited)
    Jacqueline Kennedy Jacqueline Kennedy - Herself - First Lady of the United States of America (uncredited)
    John F. Kennedy John F. Kennedy - Himself - President of the United States of America (uncredited)
    Samuel A. Kinney Samuel A. Kinney - Himself - U.S. Secret Service Agent (uncredited)
    Paul E. Landis Paul E. Landis - Himself - U.S. Secret Service Agent (only in extended frame version) (uncredited)
    B.J. Martin B.J. Martin - Himself - Dallas Police Officer (uncredited)
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