We’ve all heard the cheesy saying that “a picture tells a thousand words.” The assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas on November 22, 1963, was one of the most photographed murders in history. The focus given to the various photographs and films, shot by both professional photographers and novices, is one of the cornerstones of assassination research. Often, budding researchers cut their teeth by pouring over the numerous slides and frames taken in and around Dealey Plaza, before and after the shooting, searching for mysterious or potential assassins in shadowy and blurry areas that people have combed through over the past fifty years. Although, this approach may seem an exercise in futility to some, the photographic evidence provides researchers and historians with a vivid interpretation of the events of that day in November and still yields interesting, and even vital, information about the mechanics of the shooting and actions of witnesses in the immediate vicinity of what would become history.
With the numerous amounts of photographs and films that were taken at the time of President Kennedy’s murder in the area of Dealey Plaza, there is often talk in the research community about missing frames or photographs that fell through the cracks and disappeared into obscurity. It is a known fact that several frames of the Zapruder Film were damaged in the position of Life magazine and those damaged frames are now missing from the camera original. The camera original Nix Film, taken across the street from Zapruder, has been missing since at least 1992 and only 1st generation duplicates exist. Orville Nix, the man who shot the Nix Film, would claim that federal investigators returned his original film with frames missing. These are just two examples of important films, both captured during the assassination, of films that are possibly incomplete. However, the word incomplete doesn’t satisfy all assassination researchers. Some believe that edits to the films serve a more nefarious purpose.
While the films that depict the actual assassination of the president are most often the subject of intense scrutiny by researchers and historians concerned with missing frames and segments of the films, there does exist several other films that are perhaps more in need of attention when concerning editing or cutting. The films that I am referring to are those taken in the aftermath of President Kennedy’s assassination by professional photographers, many of which were in the presidential motorcade. These witnesses and their films are often neglected for study due to their images and actions not being directly related to the actual shooting in progress. Three press photographers (Dave Wiegman Jr., Jimmy Darnell, and Malcolm Couch), who were part of the motorcade and following the presidential limousine, took valuable footage in the seconds and minutes after the gunshots had ceased. Another news photographer (Tom Alyea) was lucky enough to get inside the Texas School Book Depository before it was cordoned off by Dallas Police and filmed the search and discovery of the “sniper’s nest” and rifle on the Sixth Floor.
So what do all these films shot by professional cameramen at the scene of the Kennedy assassination all have in common? They all exist today in highly edited or jumbled versions. Part of this can be attributed to the fact that the news stations and organizations that the cameramen worked to cut the films down for airtime on television. The editors deemed what was relevant and aired the segments on television. However, exceptions do exist as NBC apparently aired the Wiegman Film in an alleged unedited form in the immediate coverage following the president’s death. Also, news studios at the time often discarded footage that wasn’t concerned relevant and destroyed these segments; this is a possible fate for several missing segments of the Alyea footage showing detectives scouring the Texas School Book Depository.
Although some researchers may find the completeness of these films to be a waste of time as they have little relevance to the mechanics of the actual assassination, I find their merits to be a worthy addition to creating a reliable timeline of the events in the immediate aftermath of the assassination. These films also allow researchers and historians a means to gauge and study eyewitnesses, as well as compare their behavior on film to that of their Warren Commission (or other) testimonies. Creating a complete picture of what occurred before, during, and after the assassination will aid future research and may even present a means of seeing the same sequences in a much different light.
Over the next few weeks and months, I am focusing my research on these films (I have also been working on a project concerning the infamous “Black Dog Man” that will be posted shortly). I hope to not only locate missing segments of the films shot by these professional photographers but to also assembly these missing segments into the existing films to create a “super cut,” thus placing in the segments back into the films at the most accurate points as they were originally filmed. I also wish to track down the highest quality version of these films as they are an essential aid to understanding the events in the chaos of Dealey Plaza. If anything, I hope this is research and work that can be built off of by not only my own contributions but also those in the research community.
My first posting about these missing films will be about the Jimmy Darnell Film. Darnell was a local NBC cameraman who was riding in the third press car of the motorcade and took footage of both the Texas School Book Depository in the seconds after the fatal shot as well as witnesses rushing the Grassy Knoll in its aftermath.
Stay tuned and thanks for reading.
Thurman Lee Storing
Monday, July 18, 2016. 8:10 PM.