What Does the Zapruder Film Really Tell Us?

Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris deconstructs the most famous 26 seconds in film history

One frame of the Zapruder film has long been considered too graphic for public view. (Zapruder Film © 1967 (Renewed 1995) The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza)
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“It’s like a little metal stabbing thing that can be fired, without a gunshot sound, can lodge itself in the flesh and be fatal.”

In Morris’ film, Thompson discloses something I hadn’t known: that the Umbrella Man had eventually come forward and explained himself. “The Umbrella Man himself showed up to give testimony to the House assassinations committee,” Morris says.

And he reproduced a clip of his appearance before the committee in his Umbrella Man film. His name was Louie Steven Witt and he testified that he brought the umbrella on that sunny day because—wait for it—he wanted to express his displeasure with JFK’s father, Joseph Kennedy.

“Who,” Morris says, “had been ambassador to England in the 1930s and [was] known for his policies of appeasement to the Third Reich.”

“Symbolized,” I say, “by the umbrella that Neville Chamberlain carried back from Munich, after Chamberlain claimed to have brought ‘peace for our time’ by letting Hitler swallow up half of Czechoslovakia, giving Hitler the impetus to launch World War II. The umbrella became the symbol of appeasement in 1938 and here in 1963, this guy carries an umbrella and thinks, ‘Whoa, people are really going to be blown away, this is really going to make a statement!’ And it turns out he becomes a symbol himself. It’s almost like history is a kind of snake swallowing its tail.”

“Part of the problem of rationality and irrationality—and it really is a problem—is how do you separate the two? Where is that line of demarcation between nutso thinking and good thinking?”

Which brings us to the double irony: Morris and Thompson’s attempt to nail down this one tiny factoid ended up getting them linked to the coverup by a conspiracy theorist.

“A filmmaker, Alex Cox, the director of Sid & Nancy, among other movies, just put a reply to my Umbrella Man film on the web,” Morris says. “Criticizing me for dismissing the Umbrella Man as a crackpot [theory].”

“So Cox believes the Umbrella Man had a role in the assassination?”

“He seemingly believes that,” Morris says.

I watched the seven-minute Alex Cox video on YouTube. Looking a bit disheveled, like an aging pedant, shuffling around a cluttered office, Cox shows that an umbrella could have been used as a weapon by using an elaborate schematic diagram of a weaponized umbrella, complete with fléchettes.

And then Cox goes further: He suggests that the man who testified to the House Select Committee on Assassinations was “up to something,” perhaps sent to deceive the committee. He offers no other proof, but just by stating his deception theory Cox seems confident he’s scored an impressive point. He offers no evidence that a weaponized umbrella was fired that day or that a poison fléchette was found in JFK’s flesh.

But somehow he makes Morris and Thompson accomplices, witting or not, in the coverup of the Umbrella Man’s murderous duplicity in Dallas that day.


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