The Scoop

JFK on Tape

By Bob Harris

IS IT HISTORY, or just the world’s most famous snuff film? By now you’ve heard that an enhanced version of Abraham Zapruder’s film of the assassination of John F. Kennedy has hit video store shelves. Some folks think it’s just peachy that the American public can finally study a clear copy of the film for themselves.

Gee, it only took 35 years.

Others, notably including former Life executives, are going on TV and accusing the video’s distributor of dealing in snuff, claiming it’s objectionably tweaky for anyone to rent a video specifically to watch an actual murder.

Well, yeah, obviously the film has a lurid appeal. It’s like driving past a car wreck, or a plane crash, or the Detroit Tigers’ middle relief. It’s hard not to look.

But it’s also hard to see how the Kennedy assassination shouldn’t be something people can see if they so desire. Yes, it’s an ugly, traumatic film. But it’s also as much a part of our visual history as the Challenger explosion, the L.A. riots, or Roseanne Arnold’s film career, footages of which are equally grim and mortifying.

The cries of media executives about decency and decorum here have absolutely no credibility. The Zapruder film is shocking, but no more than many typical newscasts. Ironically, much the criticism of the new tape is coming from writers and reporters who make much of their living by pimping police chases and hostage situations to the exclusion of actual news.

It’s also argued that the Zapruder film is special not for the graphic violence, but for the recipient of that violence. Strange then, that nobody’s trying to quash the footage of the two attempts on Gerald Ford, censor the film of blood pouring out of Bobby Kennedy’s head onto the Ambassador Hotel’s pantry floor, or pull the video of Reagan, James Brady, and two other guys getting shot off the market.

But let’s remember: The special handling of the Zapruder film, in which JFK is driven backwards by what at least looks like a shot from the front–where over 50 witnesses believed at least one shot originated–is one of the main pieces of weirdness that makes people think Oliver Stone wasn’t entirely wrong.

Immediately after the shooting, Life magazine, which had more spooks hanging around their office than Madame Blavatsky, acquired the film and refused to release it to the rest of the media. And Life printed the key frames (and only the key frames) out of sequence, making the pivotal sequence appear to look like a shot from the rear.

Less than a year later, the Warren Report’s first printing also printed the key frames (and only the key frames) out of sequence, creating the exact same effect.

Life also printed a description of the film that in no way resembles the one we now see, reporting that Kennedy actually turned to face the rear, which he never did. Life‘s control of the film prevented the public from seeing the film broadcast until a bootleg was smuggled onto late night TV–12 years later.

Imagine for a second that CNN acquired a video of Nicole Simpson’s front stoop during the time of her murder. Imagine that the footage–shockingly–seemed to indicate that there were at least two killers. And now imagine that, in spite of widespread public demand to see the film, CNN would choose to successfully suppress that footage, releasing only selected frames–out of order–while reporting falsely on the rest of the video, thus consistently buttressing the prosecution’s case.

Is it possible you wouldn’t have seen that footage for 12 years after the murder? Or do you suppose you would have seen it in roughly 12 minutes?

Would you consider CNN a credible news organization ever again?

Keeping the film away from the public serves absolutely no one. Except, of course, the CIA, the Mafia, the Cubans, LBJ, the FBI, Oswald’s clone, the saucer Nazis, and everyone else who killed JFK.

I’m kidding, of course.

Oswald was never cloned.


From the July 30-Aug. 5, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

© Metro Publishing Inc.

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