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The Zapruder Film: Reframing JFK's Assassination

The Zapruder Film: Reframing JFK's Assassination

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by David R. Wrone

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It is the most famous home movie of all time, the most closely analyzed 26 seconds of film ever shot, the most disturbing visual record of what many have called “the crime of the century."

In 486 frames—a mere six feet of celluloid—Abraham Zapruder’s iconic film captures from beginning to end the murder of President John F. Kennedy in


It is the most famous home movie of all time, the most closely analyzed 26 seconds of film ever shot, the most disturbing visual record of what many have called “the crime of the century."

In 486 frames—a mere six feet of celluloid—Abraham Zapruder’s iconic film captures from beginning to end the murder of President John F. Kennedy in broad daylight. An essential piece of evidence, the film has become nearly synonymous with the assassination itself and has generated decades of debate among conspiracy theorists and defenders of the Warren Commission’s official report. Until now, however, no scholar has produced a comprehensive book-length study of the film and its relation to the tragic events of November 22, 1963.

David Wrone, one of our nation’s foremost authorities on the assassination, re-examines Zapruder’s film with a fresh eye and a deep knowledge of the forensic evidence. He traces the film’s history from its creation on the “grassy knoll” by Dallas dressmaker Zapruder through its initial sale to Life magazine and early reproductions and its analysis by the Warren Commission and countless assassination researchers, licensing by the Zapruder family, legal battles over bootleg copies, and sale to the federal government for sixteen million dollars.

Wrone’s major contribution, however, is to demonstrate how a close examination of the film itself necessarily refutes the Warren Commission’s lone-gunman and single-bullet theories. The film, as he reminds us, provides a scientifically precise timeline of events, as well as crucial clues regarding the timing, number, origins, and impact of the shots fired that day. Analyzing the film frame-by-frame in relation to other evidence—including two key photos by Phil Willis and Ike Altgens—he builds a convincing case against the official findings.

Without fanfare, he concludes that more than three gunshots were fired from more than one direction and that most likely none were fired by alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. If true, then JFK’s death was the result of a conspiracy, for the Commission’s nonconspiracy conclusion requires a maximum of three shots and one gunman.

Wrone, however, does not speculate as to who actually shot JFK or why—or even if Oswald was a part of the conspiracy. In fact, he is no fan of conspiracy-think and is just as critical of the legion of conspiracy theorists as he is of the Warren Commission (which, he reveals, crushed dissent within its own ranks).

Doggedly pursuing the evidence wherever it leads, Wrone has produced a meticulous, clear-eyed, and provocative new reading of this remarkable cinematic Rosetta Stone.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“An important, valuable, and compelling addition to the literature on the assassination that argues convincingly that the film is both authentic and contains evidence of a conspiracy.”—Michael L. Kurtz, author of The JFK Assassination Debates: Lone Gunman versus Conspiracy “Wrone’s knowledge of the assassination’s complex and daunting evidentiary base is unparalleled.”—James H. Lesar, founder and president of the Assassination Archives and Research Center “The vivid images captured by the Zapruder film are eminently recognizable, perhaps more so than any other film footage ever captured, so much so that anyone who reflects on JFK’s assassination quite likely does so from Abraham Zapruder’s vantage point.”—Walter E. Dellinger III, Maggs Professor of Law at Duke University and former Solicitor General of the United States
Publishers Weekly
The famous Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination lasts a grand total of 26 seconds. In this 400-page book, Wrone (professor emeritus of history at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point) dissects Zapruder's footage frame by frame, only to end up restating at length the well-worn argument, expressed much more succinctly in scores of other publications, that the film shows shots fired from three different angles, none of them correlating with Lee Harvey Oswald's perch at the Texas Book Depository. While Wrone's exhaustive consideration of the film itself quickly becomes tedious, he provides a few chapters that tell some intriguing stories, such as Zapruder's early actions in the initial hours after the assassination (when he first realized he possessed a valuable "property"), the several subsequent court fights over ownership in various sections of the film and the tangled history of the U.S. government's acquisition, decades after the event, of the film. Wrone also chronicles the various ways in which the film has been used and abused by both adherents and critics of the Warren Commission and summarizes the theory, advanced by the commission's more crackpot critics, that Zapruder's footage has been altered in order to eliminate the most damning evidence of conspiracy. Aside from these anecdotes, however, there is nothing new here, just reiteration of the scathing criticisms of the Warren Commission's conclusions. Wrone's book will appeal to only the most die-hard and detail-driven assassination buffs, though these findings by a sober historian may draw attention as we mark the 40th anniversary of the assassination. 40 photos, 22 in color. (Nov. 22) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
The assassination of President Kennedy 40 years ago this month jolted Americans into the realization that their country would never be the same, says Wrone. This history of the 26-second Zapruder film and its role in the criminal investigation argues forcefully that Kennedy was shot by more than one person, none of whom was Lee Harvey Oswald. Wrone is neither a Warren Commission defender nor an outlandish conspiracy theorist but a careful historian who presents a strong case that the Warren Commission hastily and wrongly concluded that Oswald murdered Kennedy and that a single "magic bullet" shot both the President and Texas governor John Connally. Wrone calls Gerald Posner's influential 1993 Case Closed "one of the most error-ridden works on the assassination" but also condemns conspiracy enthusiasts like Oliver Stone for offering such shoddy speculations that the government and mainstream media often treat the work of serious assassination researchers as screeds bordering on the paranoid. Future assassination researchers will consult this fascinating history of the indelible Zapruder film. Strongly recommended for academic and most public libraries. While Lubin (art, Wake Forest Univ.) also makes some interesting comments about the Zapruder film, which he calls "a political thriller," his book offers only cursory comments about the assassination itself. Instead, he provides a series of provocative essays about how perceptions of the Kennedys have become part of our national memory. Lubin's spirited and gracefully written essays demonstrate that John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy became such dominant personalities because the public associated them with enduring themes of classical and popular culture. For example, the Kennedys, viewed as classic defenders of the poor, and The Beverly Hillbillies, the most popular TV show of 1963, were both known for poking fun at the rich. In addition, the macho image that Kennedy cultivated was enhanced by his reading Ian Fleming's best-selling James Bond novels. Following the death of the President, the Camelot myth of noble leadership and the protection of all subjects was readily accepted by a grieving nation. As Lubin shows, this myth was already ingrained in American culture, and he skillfully relates how Kennedy used it to stir the populace and create his own iconography. He also explains why these myths, reinforced by both ancient and contemporary images, remain vibrant. Strongly recommended for academic and larger public libraries. "Mr. President, you certainly can't say that Dallas doesn't love you!" These were the famously innocent last words that Nellie Connally, wife of the Texas governor, uttered to Kennedy seconds before he was killed. In a voice that is both forthright and personable, she presents her recollections of the momentous events of November 22, 1963, based on notes written shortly after the assassination but lost and not rediscovered until 1996. Nellie Connally is the last surviving dignitary who rode in that fateful presidential limo, and this memoir shows how the events of this national trauma personally affected her and the three Connally children. The reader shares her anger at seeing Lee Harvey Oswald receiving excellent medical treatment in the same hospital where President Kennedy was pronounced dead and where her husband almost died from an assassin's bullet. The three Connally children tell how they were pulled out of school that day, while rumors swirled that their wounded father was already dead. This unique account tells how Nellie Connally coped with the long recovery of her husband and how the Connally family lost its sense of security as a result of the assassination. This well-illustrated memoir by a witness to history is recommended for public libraries.-Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

University Press of Kansas
Publication date:
Edition description:
New Edition
Product dimensions:
6.24(w) x 9.76(h) x 1.33(d)

Meet the Author

David R. Wrone is professor emeritus of history at the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point.

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The Zapruder Film: Reframing JFK's Assassination 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
extremely well researched book which states facts and refuses to get caught up in unprovable theories of CIA conspiracies, etc. Well-written and a joy to read. far superior to just about anything and conclusively proves that not only was jfk not shot from the book depository but that the zapruder film hasn't been altered
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a book that shouldn't have to have been written.

But due to the nonsensical, unethical works of self-proclaimed 'researchers' such as Fetzer, Lifton, White, Mantik, Marler, Schaeffer, Twyman - and many others - this book finally places the state of JFK assassination research back on track ... back before the 'Zapruder film alterationists' began diverting the search for the truth behind the assassination from reality to their delusions.

Those who claim the Zapruder film was 'sinisterly altered' never completely address the chain of possession of the film and the three copies made in Dallas on November 22, 1963. No opportunity existed - the chain of custody is solidly documented - for anyone to alter the film as the alterationists describe.

Furthermore, there isn't one single photograph nor other film footage taken that day (and there are hundreds of exposures taken in and around Dealey Plaza that afternoon) that the 'alterationists' can point to that disagrees with what is seen in the Zapruder camera original film.

And contrary to the belief of the alterationists, federal officials in Dallas - as well as the FBI - initially showed little interest in the Zapruder film. Secret Service Agent Sorrels (who accompanied Zapruder to the Kodak developing plant) actualy left the Kodak plant before the processing was completed. Zapruder had to hunt Sorrels down later that evening to offer a copy of the film to him...and, after Sorrels was located at the Dallas PD station - Sorrels refused to take charge of the film, asking citizen Zapruder to deliver the film to Max Phillips at the Secret Service office on Ervay Street.

The FBI was even less interested in the film. They had actually dismissed the film as having no evidentiary value. It was the media's growing interest in the film that alerted the FBI - and the Dallas office of the FBI borrowed a copy from the Secret Service.

The CIA? There is no document, no legitimate witness, direct nor indirect credible source that can place the Zapruder film in the hands of the CIA on November 22 or the following two days.

'With such uncritical support for their untenable claims,' writes Wrone, ''alterationists' like Lifton and others have made a proper study of the assassination and its investigation much more difficult to pursue than it need be. In the process, they have helped discredit other much more reliable researchers who agree that there was indeed a conspiracy, but have been much more responsible in documenting their claims.

'To politicians and bureaucrats, to federal investigative officials and mainstream intellectuals, to press owners and television commentators who fiercely maintain the official findings of no conspiracy, the alterationists have been a godsend.'

Clint Bradford

JH0 More than 1 year ago
JFK's assassins undoubtedly thought that they had everything planned, down to the most miniscule detail. They could never have anticipated the likes of Mr. Abraham Zapruder, who almost didn't film the motorcade on Nov. 22, 1963. With the killing bullets whistling past him from behind, Mr. Zapruder, continued to stand upright, when all others around him dropped to the ground, and he continued to film the Kennedy car until it drove out of sight. With each bullet fired, Zapruder jerked slightly while filming, producing the evidence that JFK was not shot from the Texas Book Depository Building. The subsequent story of the journey of the actual reel of film, the developing, the copying, the handling, the printing, is professionally and meticulously written and sourced, by Mr. Wrone. Nothing could have been altered by anyone. While the author makes no reference to any probable suspects, it is not difficult to finger the assassins. Knowing the unvarnished history of the early 1960's and the years following the assassination(s), the conclusion is bitterly obvious.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The NPIC, a photogragh agency of the CIA did have possession of the Z film. The film was in the possession of the Agency days after the event in Dallas. Homer McMahon an employee former employee of the NPIC has testified to the ARRB about this fact. Mr. McMahon was ordered to make 40 enlarged prints of impacts on occupants in the limosine. During this process he had to watch the film at least 15 times that day. The prints he enlarged were very easy to identity; McMahon counted the flinches of JFK specifically and reported he must have been shot 6 to 8 times. I know that sounds ridiculous compared to the film we have seen. This is coming from an employee who saw the film 3 days after the event in Dallas. He also had no direct roll in changing or altering the film. His chief job at the NPIC consisted entirely but, not exclusively, of enlarging spy plane photos. He was ordered to enlarge the impact scenes and that was it. He was not interviewed until late 1996 by the ARRB. This proves conspiracy if the evidence is tampered with. The people have viewed a completely different film. Forget counting shooters in Dealey Plaza that's 1st grade material. Stick to what you can prove; the evidence is untrustworthy. We need to look at the real film, exhume the body, or look at the brain which vanished from the archives.