A meticulous history of an iconic home movie and its contentious afterlife.
Positioned to film John F. Kennedy’s motorcade in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, Abraham Zapruder, to his profound horror, instead recorded the president’s assassination. In this carefully researched investigation, his granddaughter Alexandra Zapruder (editor: Salvaged Pages: Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust, 2004, etc.) examines the fate of that movie, from the first chaotic moments after the tragedy to the present. Her aim, she writes, is to tell not only her grandfather’s story, but to probe “the centrality of the film’s place in the Kennedy assassination debates, how it had challenged norms around the public representation of violence, how it triggered new debates about the media’s role in protecting personal privacy or providing access to information.” In the immediate aftermath, the FBI and Secret Service scrambled to find a lab that would make copies. At the same time, Zapruder was besieged by journalists wanting to buy the movie, demands that he strongly resisted until a sympathetic reporter from LIFE “offered him a safe harbor in a sea of sharks” that included the aggressive young Dan Rather. Zapruder relinquished the original to LIFE and kept a duplicate, retaining rights to the film. Eventually, beset by legal problems, the magazine sold the film back to the family, who deposited it in the National Archives. The author reveals how the film was perceived, frame by frame, in various investigations, including the Warren Commission, which concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone; and by a rash of headstrong conspiracy theorists. After Zapruder’s death, the author’s father, a lawyer, vetted requests to use the film from writers, scholars, the media, and a certain “Los Angeles-based filmmaker” who turned out to be Oliver Stone. Drawing on family and media archives, interviews, and published sources, the author makes a strong case for the film’s “fame, cultural status, and emotional and symbolic value” both for the nation and her family.
An intriguing history of one of the most significant home movies ever recorded.