The Zapruder film is a silent, color motion picture sequence shot by private citizen Abraham Zapruder with a home-movie camera, as U.S. President John F. Kennedy‘s motorcade passed through Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963, thereby unexpectedly capturing the President’s assassination.
Though not the only film of the shooting, it has been called the most complete, giving a relatively clear view from a somewhat elevated position, and on the side from which the president’s head wound is visible. It was an important part of the Warren Commission hearings and all subsequent investigations of the assassination, and is one of the most studied pieces of film in history. Of greatest notoriety is the film’s capture of the fatal shot to President Kennedy’s head when his limousine was almost exactly in front of, and slightly below, Zapruder’s position.
Holding a high-end Model 414 PD Bell & Howell Zoomatic Director Series Camera, Zapruder stood on a concrete pedestal along Elm Street in Dealey Plaza. He filmed from the time the presidential limousine turned onto Elm Street. The sequence contains 486 frames, or 26.6 seconds of Kodachrome II 8 mm safety film, running at 18.3 frames per second.
After Secret Service agent Forrest Sorrels promised Zapruder that the film would only be used for an official investigation, the two men sought to develop the footage as soon as possible. As television station WFAA‘s equipment was inadequate, Eastman Kodak‘s Dallas film processing facility developed the film and Jamieson Film Company produced three copies. Zapruder gave two of the copies to the Secret Service.
Media interest in the footage was so great that CBS‘s Dan Rather agreed to producer Don Hewitt‘s order that he go to Zapruder’s home, “sock him in the jaw”, copy the film, return it, and let the network’s lawyers deal with the consequences. After ending their telephone conversation Hewitt realized his mistake and immediately called Rather back to countermand the order. On the morning of November 23, however, CBS lost the bidding for the footage to Life magazine’s $150,000 offer. Rather was the first to report on the footage on national television after seeing it, although the inaccuracies in his description would contribute to many conspiracy theories about the assassination.
Frame 313 of the film depicts the fatal shot to the President’s head. After having a nightmare in which he saw a sign in Times Square read “See the President’s head explode!”, Zapruder insisted that frame 313 be excluded from publication. 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.