7 Visual Culture and Film

The story of the Kennedy assassination is inseparable from the mass production and consumption of illusory images in postwar American politics and culture, not least because the Camelot White House pioneered the careful cultivation of a media image in which style seemed to replace substance. Numerous iconic images of the assassination and its aftermath have engrained themselves into the contemporary American imagination, from the Zapruder footage to John Kennedy Jr's salute of his father's coffin at the funeral, and from Oswald's death 'live' on television to bootlegged copies of Kennedy's autopsy photos. In addition to the snapshots and home movie clips captured by amateur and professional photographers on the day, the iconography of the assassination has fascinated numerous avant-garde artists, most notably Andy Warhol. Having looked at these accidental and avant-garde representations, this chapter will discuss the repeated shootings of the assassination in Hollywood films, in particular Blow-Up (1966), The Parallax View (1974), Blow Out (1981), zndJFK(l99l), all of which are notable for their sophisticated visual and cinematic techniques.

The Zapruder Footage

Regarded as the Rosetta Stone of the assassination, the Zapruder footage is the single most important representation of the event, with its twenty-six seconds of blurry images the subject of unparalleled, intense scrutiny over four decades. This home movie is one of the most iconic films of the twentieth century, with the images of the pink of Jackie's suit, the black of the limousine, the green of the grass and the bright orange halo of blood and brain tissue as Kennedy's head explodes indelibly etched on the nation's psyche (see Sturken 1997: 19–43). It was shot by Abraham Zapruder, who owned a dressmaking business in Dallas, and who was delighted to find that the liberal president he admired was passing by his workplace in the Dal-Tex building on the


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The Kennedy Assassination


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