This was the text that accompanied the November 29, 1963 article, "Split-Second Sequence as the Bullets Struck":
On these and the following two pages is a remarkable and exclusive series of pictures which show, for the first time and in tragic detail, the fate which befell our President. The caravan had just passed through the downtown area of Dallas and made a sharp left turn at the corner of Elm and Houston Streets, where it headed down an incline into an underpass. First came the police motorcycle escort (above) and then the big Lincoln bearing the Kennedys and Texas Governor John Connally and his wife. The crowds were thin at this point, but the President and Mrs. Kennedy were smiling and waving as their car passes the brick building where the assassin lurked, and disappeared momentarily behind a highway sign.
Then came the awful moment. In these pictures, which run consecutively from left to right, it begins as the car comes out from behind the sign (fifth picture). The President's wave turns into a clutching movement toward his throat (seventh picture). Governor Connally, who glances around to see what has happened, is himself struck by a bullet (ninth picture) and slumps over (tenth picture). As the President's car approaches a lamppost Mrs. Kennedy suddenly becomes aware of what has happened and reaches over to help (larger pictures below) while Governor Connally slumps to the floor. The President collapses on his wife's shoulder and in the last two small pictures the First Lady cradles him in her arms.
The investigation by the newly-established House Select Committee on Assassinations quickly became fodder for cultural critics and conspiracy theorists, and raised questions about the possibility of a second assassin. The conspiracy cult would turn dark when actor Freddie Prinze was rumored to have been so fascinated by the Zapruder film that he watched it frequently in the time leading up to his 1977 suicide. The conspiracy speculations continue to thrive today, even among America's elite. The once mysterious "Umbrella Man" is the subject of an intriguing short film Errol Morris made for the New York Times last year—and featuring Life's former legal adversary, author and investigator Josiah Thompson."The Umbrella Man," Errol Morris, dir. (2011)DeLillo wants to take a scientific approach to the assassination. But Zapruder's ghostly footage doesn't make things easier.
I think every emotion we felt is part of that film, and certainly confusion is one of the larger ones, yes. Confusion and horror. The head shot is like some awful, pornographic moment that happens without warning in our living rooms— some truth about the world, some unspeakable activity people engage in that we don't want to know about. And after the confusion about when Kennedy is first hit, and when Connally is hit, and why the president's wife is scrambling over the seat, and simultaneous with the horror of the head shot, part of the horror, perhaps—there's a bolt of revelation. Because the head shot is the most direct kind of statement that the lethal bullet was fired from the front. Whatever the physical possibilities concerning impact and reflex, you look at this thing and wonder what's going on. Are you seeing some distortion inherent in the film medium or in your own perception of things? Are you the willing victim of some enormous lie of the state—a lie, a wish, a dream? Or, did the shot simply come from the front, as every cell in your body tells you it did?
Back in 1993, the Zapruder clan formally demanded the return of the original film, for which they still retained copyright. Officials at the National Archives refused, pointing to their brand new Record Collection Act. By 1998, the tensions had grown into another full-blown legal battle. The Zapruders insisted the government pay them $18.5 million for the original film and its copyright. Bill Bennett, the family's lawyer who had also worked for President Clinton in his Paula Jones defense, said that professional appraisers had found the value of the film to be as high as $70 million, and compared the film to an original manuscript of the Declaration of Independence.An official at the Justice Department said that its appraisals were no higher than $3 million, and insisted that the film had no intrinsic value, saying, according to the Times, that "a more apt analogy is a piece of computer software that is widely available and can be reproduced at will."Finally, in 1999, an arbitration panel ordered the government to pay the Zapruders $16 million to keep the original film. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, that works out to a record-breaking $615,384 per second.In Dec. 1999, the Zapruder family donated the film's copyright to The Sixth Floor Museum, in the Texas School Book Depository building at Dealey Plaza, along with one of the first-generation copies made on November 22, 1963, and other copies of the film and frame enlargements once held by Life magazine. The Zapruder family no longer retains any rights to the film.Like the film of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, the copyright of which is protected by the King family's music industry representatives, or this summer's takedown of NASA's Curiosity landing video, the Zapruder saga raises fascinating questions about what counts as historical record, and how to better distribute those documents without fear of copyright infringement. While the 1968 federal district court case involving Life magazine called the film copyrightable, its great public interest and the fact that the event cannot be properly understood without public access to the film would also make it an indispensible document. For now, those who wish to use the film can take some solace in the establishment of its "fair use" in that case, provided that its used in "good faith and fair dealing." It is, after all, valued at $16 million.But what about the event itself—surely that's not of the documentarian's own creation; he or she is only there to capture it. Presumably the event itself can't be copyrighted. The question of who owns a picture first came before the Supreme Court in a case over a studio photograph of Oscar Wilde. The argument was made that a photograph was "merely mechanical" and involved no "novelty, invention or originality." The Court declined to say if copyright could constitutionally be granted to "the ordinary production of a photograph," but it found that the photograph in suit had involved the posing of the subject and a choice of costume and background. The photograph, the Court determined, was like a piece of writing, of which the photographer was the author and which was thus subject to copyright. This left open whether an ordinary photograph of a real life object could constitutionally be a proper subject of copyright.Later, Judge Learned Hand cited another Court case in writing that "no photograph, however simple, can be unaffected by the personal influence of the author, and no two will be absolutely alike." Justice Brandeis dissented: "The mere record of isolated happenings, whether in words or by photographs not involving artistic skill, are denied [copyright] protection." The question is then one of artistic skill. No one could own a copyright on an event, one court found in a lawsuit involving the Associated Press. But articles, even blog articles, require some skill: "No doubt news articles often posses a literary quality," he wrote, "and are the subject of literary property at the common law; nor do we question that such an article, as a literary production, is the subject of copyright by the terms of the act as it now stands."The only legal use of the Zapruder footage to those who do not own the copyright remains in cases of fair use. (Note, for example, the blaring copyright notice beneath this straight-and-narrow documentary about the Zapruder film) Whether or not "fair use" leaves legal wiggle room for the use of the Zapruder film in an endless stream of conspiracy videos on YouTube (there are over 1,500 results for zapruder film on the site), in parodies, or perhaps, one hopes, in a future Errol Morris documentary, the film has already moved far beyond the jurisdiction of a copyright court. For those of us who've ever seen it, it can easily become a permanent fixture in the screening room of our heads. And, in spite of all the theories and debates, the attempts to own the narrative of those events, the most heavily cited, if imperfect visual evidence of what happened on that morning still sits on 486 frames of 8mm tape. Welcome to the video age.DeLillo again:
Whether or not the Zapruder film sparked a kind of television revolution, for legal and political reasons, the footage itself was shown on American TV only once. Its voyage onto the pages of Life, and later into public archives and across the Internet, from samizdat screenings to YouTube restorations, burning up millions of dollars in the process, makes me think of a world we already know, one where citizen video, incentivized with Flip cams, high-speed internet, cash rewards, and the currency of Youtube hits, would become an increasingly central cog in the gears of journalism, as well as of the celebrity culture that JFK and Jackie O brought to the White House.It also makes me think of a world where the visual may be more present than ever, but no more reliable as a document of reality. Look at the Sandy fakes that spread across Twitter, or the Innocence of Muslims video, sad examples of people manipulating an image to say something it never said. These are a form of subtle propaganda, and it's in the discussion about second and third gunmen behind grassy knolls or men holding umbrellas in crowds that we get a chance to be more reflexive about all kinds of evidence and claims to truth. These are after all the kind of images that can spark violence, and not just in other countries. It was America's other most notorious home video, George Holliday's 81-second clip of Rodney King's beating by the Los Angeles police in 1991, that eventually ignited some of the worst riots in American history.The effects of the visual image on society will be debated ad nauseum (curiously, some critics would later credit Zapruder's film in particular with giving a bit of ultraviolence and verite sensibility to the cinematic decades that followed), and there's so much more to this film—the issues of desensitization, decency, and copyright. But the Zapruder film is also proof that the visual is harder than it looks. No matter how familiar we are with it, no matter how reliable or realistic we think it looks, no matter how many times we may play it back in our heads, the most shocking, jarring kind of footage resists all sorts of reason.
"Film allows us to examine ourselves in ways earlier societies could not—examine ourselves, imitate ourselves, extend ourselves, reshape our reality. It permeates our lives, this double vision, and also detaches us, turns some of us into actors doing walk-throughs. In my work, film and television are often linked with disaster. Because this is one of the energies that charges the culture. TV has a sort of panting lust for bad news and calamity as long as it is visual. We've reached the point where things exist so they can be filmed and played and replayed. Some people may have had the impression that the Gulf War was made for television. And when the Pentagon censored close coverage, people became depressed. All that euphoria drifting through the country suddenly collapsed—not because we weren't winning but because they'd taken away our combat footage. Think about the images most often repeated. The Rodney King videotape or the Challenger disaster or Ruby shooting Oswald. These are the images that connect us the way Betty Grable used to connect us in her white swimsuit, looking back at us over her shoulder in the famous pinup. And they play the tape again and again and again and again. This is the world narrative, so they play it until everyone in the world has seen it."