JFK’s Assassination, Frame by Frame: Key Stills From the Zapruder Film
Millions of people who were alive at the time of John Kennedy’s assassination first learned of the existence of Abraham Zapruder’s 8mm home-movie of the killing in the pages of LIFE magazine. It was there, in the November 29, 1963, issue of the famed weekly that countless readers first encountered, in LIFE’s words, “a remarkable and exclusive series of pictures which show, for the first time and in tragic detail, the fate which befell our President.”
In the recent LIFE book, The Day Kennedy Died, meanwhile, Daniel S. Levy points out that “LIFE withheld the infamous frame 313 at that time, the image that shows Kennedy being struck by Oswald’s final bullet, but the impact of the rest was immense notwithstanding.” Today, all these years later, the impact is still immense. Even seeing frame 313 as a single image (slide #7 in this gallery), rather than as a sudden, shocking instant in a home movie, can feel profoundly unsettling.
That is the instant, we tell ourselves, gazing at the graphic, grainy picture, the very instant that John Kennedy was killed. That is the moment Camelot came to an end.
Here, LIFE.com presents a number of frames from the Zapruder film — fewer than 10 out of the 486 frames that make up the 26-second movie — in hopes that viewers will approach them as significant historical documents and, simply, as pictures. As former LIFE editor Richard Stolley recently said, in an interview with TIME.com:
“I often talk about the majesty of the still picture; of the still image . . . and there’s no question in my mind that the Zapruder film would never have had the impact it does if it had been shown the first time as a motion picture. The fact is, [LIFE magazine] showed it in still images, and those cemented themselves onto the American psyche so that by the time America saw it as a movie, they already knew what they were about to see and were prepared for it. And LIFE prepared them.”
[See photos from JFK's funeral at Arlington.]