Zapruder film cheap, cheesy history lesson

Tuesday, July 14, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Somebody will make a big pile of money on this.

It will sell. Definitely. This is more genuine than the fist fights on the Jerry Springer Show. It's more violent than The Terminator. It contains more realistic gore than Scream 2.

"Image of an Assassination: A New Look at the Zapruder Film" features six separate views of President John F. Kennedy's head exploding. Six. Think of it. Plus it is a low-budget film, and the makers have passed along the savings to us consumers.

The original was shot, of course, by Dallas dress manufacturer Abraham Zapruder on a modest Bell & Howell home movie camera 35 years ago. Life magazine paid him $50,000 for the rights to the 26-second film and later sold it back to the Zapruder family.

Not for the queasy

ABC first showed the movie on television in 1975. "If you're at all sensitive, if you're at all queasy," warned Geraldo Rivera, "don't watch this film. Turn on the late movie. This is very heavy."

Very heavy indeed. And after all this time, very familiar.

You can see the most dramatic four seconds free of charge on the Internet. In color. Along with dozens of discussions and conspiracy theories. There's one site called the "The Zapruder Appreciation Society."

What is thought to be the original of the film is preserved in a chilly room at the National Archives along with footage of Neil Armstrong on the moon and Adolf Hitler's home movies.

Last year, a government review board ruled that the Zapruder film should be the permanent possession of the American people. The Zapruders want to be compensated. They also would like to recover the cost of enhancing and preserving the film, which cost them about $350,000.

They are asking the government to pay them $18 million.

This should cover their expenses nicely.

The newly released video costs less than $20 and features "digitally enhanced" film footage of President Kennedy's skull being ripped open by an assassin's bullet.

Again and again.

David Bauder of the Associated Press reports that after less than riveting technical detail, "It finishes as something of a scientific snuff film, repeating Zapruder's work in slower and slower motion with the camera zooming in on Kennedy."

"Tremendous interest'

A spokeswoman from Blockbuster Video's corporate offices in Dallas, just down the street from the grassy knoll, reports that copies will be shipped to all of the company's 4,000 stores. Including Cincinnati?

"They should arrive by the end of the week," says Liz Greene. "There has been tremendous interest."

By regular people or just reporters?

"Mostly reporters," she says. "But we expect sales to be good."

MPI Home Video of Orland Park, Ill., produced the video at a cost of $500,000. Natalie Olinger of their communication department says their CEO, Waleed Ali, would be "happy" to sell 200,000. Their target audience, she says, is "baby boomers who remember the assassination, who want to know the story of the film."

I wish this particular marketing project would lay a big egg, that people would decline to bring this into their living rooms. It would be nice to think that we still have the capacity to be queasy, to be "at all" sensitive.

At an auction in March, two pairs of President Kennedy's underwear were sold for $3,450. Meanwhile, tourists hold their shopping bags aloft and grin into the camera for a souvenir photo of the site where fashion designer Gianni Versace was shot and killed. The Paris underpass where Princess Diana died has also become a photo op. So will this snuff film sell?

History tells us it will.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at