UW News

November 18, 2013

Documents that Changed the World: the Zapruder film, Nov. 22, 1963

UW News

A moment from the film show by Abraham Zapruder on Nov. 22, 1963.

A moment from the film show by Abraham Zapruder on Nov. 22, 1963.Abraham Zapruder

He only came to get the iconic footage through a series of coincidences and later regretted what he had done. It was the last film he would ever shoot.

The 26.6 seconds of color film that Abraham Zapruder shot in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, became arguably the most widely known, discussed and analyzed bit of film in history — showing as it did the assassination of a president.

The Zapruder film seems a natural entry into the Documents that Changed the World series of podcasts created by Joe Janes, professor in the University of Washington Information School.

Documents that Changed the World podcasts:

In the podcasts, Janes explores the origin and often evolving meaning of historical documents both famous and less known. UW Today presents these periodically, and all of the podcasts are available online at the Information School website. And though the film in itself did not alter history, it depicted a moment when the nation changed forever.

“If it’s not the most scrutinized motion picture ever, it must have the greatest ratio of eyeballs to frames of all time,” Janes says in the podcast.

“We all know the film, at least hazily, but as is so often the case, the small details are less widely known — all the coincidences and chance happenings that led him to get the film at all, the angle he got, the view he got,” Janes said. “The saga of that day in getting the film developed and copied, and then the subsequent developments through publication, investigations, government seizure — and tons of controversy.

Janes said he carefully scrutinized the sources he used for information about the footage, since so many had an agenda or a conspiratorial point of view.

Joseph Janes

Joseph Janes

“Every detail from the tiniest to the most profound is endlessly debated with no hope of resolution. What happened to the six frames that are ‘missing’ from many versions? Most sources agree that they were damaged by a Life magazine technician, but were they really?”

Zapruder witnessed the assassination through a viewfinder, even magnified by a telephoto lens, and filmed what he saw.

“As the only complete image we have of the event, it is, as I say, the reservoir of our memory and the lodestone of our controversy, and likely always will be,” Janes said. “In the future, fewer and fewer events will go unrecorded, though whether that ultimately helps our understanding and memory is yet to be determined.”

This is the 25th installment in the Documents that Changed the World podcast series. The podcasts are also available on iTunes, with about 52,000 downloads there so far.

Previous stories in the “Documents that Changed the World” series