Technical Aspects of Film Alteration

David Healy

32 pages (pp. 113–144); 7 photographs; 26 diagrams

Introduction and background (4 pages)

David Healy explains why he was drawn into the research of the Zapruder film’s authenticity: principally, to refute false arguments against the alteration or fabrication of the Zapruder film by The Gang themselves—namely, their claim that the technology available in 1963 was not sufficiently advanced for such work. Healy summarises his connection with the case, and his vast expertise and experience in the film and television industry.

The Gang’s response:

Joe Durnavich and David Wimp authored The Gang’s page attacking this chapter. References to “Durnavich and Wimp” below are to this page. For the history and background of these two “experts”, consider my general summary of The Gang and of their general approach.

Some problems with the standard chronology (1 page)

Healy demolishes the standard argument against Zapruder film alteration (namely, “there was no time to do it”), and provides further incisive comments that are obvious once stated—and obvious to a professional like him—but which have been overlooked by less expert researchers to date, such as: why were the only first-day copies of the original made on 8 mm film, rather than “bumped up” immediately to a larger format?

The Gang’s response:

No response.

Why was the film edited? (2 pages)

Healy summarises the reasons why the film would need to have been edited by the conspirators, and the editing steps that would need to be taken almost immediately (using optical printing), to excise major features of the film, for the purpose of projecting to a small number of people, a limited number of times, in the days following the assassination.

The Gang’s response:

No response.

An introduction to 8 mm film, and some simple editing using mattes (5 pages)

Healy provides an introduction to 8 mm film for the layman, using simplified diagrams. He describes the idea of mattes, and shows how the various pieces of an image can be subjected to simple editing and then re-combined using projectors. These techniques were elementary for professionals in the field in 1963 (as described in Raymond Fielding’s textbook from the period, cited by Healy).

The Gang’s response:

Remarkably, Durnavich and Wimp seem to have failed to comprehend the diagrams that Healy has presented. They complain that he used modern digital software to create his illustrations, implying that he has somehow defrauded the reader because they were not created by film techniques! Well, I have news for Durnavich and Wimp: the entire book was created on computers—the text, the images, the diagrams, the illustrations. We did not use typewriters, 8 mm film, or hand-drawn diagrams. That’s the way that publications are put together in 2003.

If Durnavich and Wimp are not cognitively impaired, they are being deceitful. Healy’s diagrams clearly illustrate the film editing techniques he describes in the text. His goal is to provide a simple, step-by-step, pedagogical explanation of how these procedures were carried out. In my opinion—as a teacher, as well as a scientist—he has succeeded in this task.

Durnavich and Wimp criticise Healy for choosing an example in which the background, grassy area of Frame 256 is enlarged. They pretend to be perplexed as to why he chose such an example—misrepresenting it as Healy being “at a loss” by quoting him out of context. Either Durnavich and Wimp are massively uneducated in the history of the research of the photographic evidence, or they are again being deceitful. There has been a strong belief amongst researchers that the background grassy area of the Zapruder film was progressively enlarged, by a small but increasing amount, after the limousine passed the Stemmons Freeway sign. This has been discussed extensively in Assassination Science and Murder in Dealey Plaza, as well as previous publications. At the time that Healy prepared these pedagogical examples (2002), this belief was still widespread, and so it was completely reasonable for him to choose this as a particularly pertinent example. It wasn’t until my panorama work (September 2002) and my presentation at the Duluth Symposium (May 2003) that it was clearly established that this “background magnification” is an illusion. Indeed, I spend almost a page of The Great Zapruder Film Hoax (169–170) explaining this proof.

But rather than praise our even-handedness in publishing proofs of our own previous research being wrong, Durnavich and Wimp misrepresent Healy’s comments and “play dumb”. They then ignore the very statement that they have misused, and accuse Healy of presenting the illustration as an actual fabrication carried out in the extant Zapruder film! Again, Durnavich and Wimp are pretending to misunderstand the entire goal of Healy’s chapter, which is not to analyse the content of the actual film (that’s the subject of my chapter and David Mantik’s chapter), but rather to explain the film editing techniques that were available in 1963.

Durnavich and Wimp then make a completely erroneous and misleading comment about such techniques introducing “a sudden shift in patches in the grass at these frames”. To have such a shift, one requires at least two frames to compare. But Healy has only illustrated the technique on one particular frame! Obviously (or perhaps not, to Durnavich and Wimp), any special effects editor will match up features from frame to frame to present the illusion of reality. Surely this was more than possible in 1963: the techniques were used primarily for motion pictures, after all! Could you imagine “Mary Poppins” losing the illusion of reality because a piece of grass jumped all over the place from frame to frame? Durnavich and Wimp’s comments would be amusing if they weren’t so embarrassing to The Gang.

Durnavich and Wimp then take their farce one step further by criticising Healy for not reconstructing the ghost images, the claw shadow, and the lens’s circle of good definition. They even pretend to “lecture” Healy by explaining what these effects are. Of course, if Durnavich and Wimp had read my chapter, they would have found the very same descriptions there—together with my explicit explanations of how elementary optical techniques could have been combined to replicate each and every one of these properties perfectly. Could you imagine what a reader would make of Healy’s chapter, if he had complicated his first examples of matte techniques with an additional half-dozen optical effects that are so subtle that it took researchers years, if not decades, to fully understand?

It is reassuring that Durnavich and Wimp are not qualified to ever be entrusted with a pedagogical position. I can imagine them teaching Nuclear Physics 101, and scolding their students for not drawing a schematic diagram of Three Mile Island in explaining the shell model of the nucleus.

The processing of the Zapruder film (4 pages)

Healy summarises the standard story of the processing of Abraham Zapruder’s film, again making a number of incisive comments. He describes what is known about the missing processing number between the original film and the three copies. He explains how the copies would have been made, and how the film is then “split”—again, for the layman, with simplified diagrams.

The Gang’s response:

No response.

Some examples of more advanced editing (9 pages)

Healy now explains how one can start to “ramp up” the complexity of the editing work performed on a piece of film. He builds up the simplified diagrams to a more realistic degree of sophistication, but still restricted to the case of the editing of a moving picture film in a continuous process, as was routinely applied in 1963 for special effects work.

The Gang’s response:

No response.

Photographic (frame by frame) editing (1 page)

Given that Healy’s expertise lies in film and television, he only provides a brief indication of the possibilities allowed when individual photographs (film frames) are edited one at a time: a seamless composite photograph created in 1858 ten nine different photographic images! For professional film work in 1963, such a degree of work on each single frame would have been completely impractical, with hundreds of feet of film (containing many thousands of frames) being quite the norm. But for the Zapruder film, with only six feet of film and less than 500 frames—and only a few dozen of these being published within the first year—this degree of sophistication was not only more than possible, it was crucial if the fraud was to succeed. Healy’s example does illustrate the point that the technology and know-how existed a century before the assassination to create photographic fabrications of this degree of complexity. (See also the end of my chapter.)

The Gang’s response:

Unbelievably, Durnavich and Wimp criticise Healy for noting that “No cut lines are visible.” They note that Robinson worked with very large format negatives, and quote Dr. Robert Leggat from his “A History of Photography” web page, who states that “If one examines a large copy of [the] print closely one can see the ‘joins’ …”.

Again, it is impossible to tell if Durnavich and Wimp really don’t understand what they are saying, or if they are “playing dumb” on purpose.

Firstly, if they had read my chapter, they would know that I believe that the individual frames could well have been fabricated in just such a large format. Indeed, Doug Horne’s ARRB investigations (see his Appendix) revealed that in 1963 the CIA’s National Photographic Interpretation Center was able to blow up individual colour frames using the state-of-the-art “liquid gate” technique (see Lifton’s chapter for a description of this) from 8 mm directly up to such a huge format!

Secondly, they then use Leggat to imply that the “joins” would be visible in such a fabrication. But this is obviously nonsense “science”. Leggat talks of further blowing up the large format print and examining it microscopically. Is that what we are considering for the Zapruder film? Of course not! The final fabricated image would have been reduced down to the tiny 8 mm format. Instead of increasing the relative area resolution by a factor of thousands, we are reducing it again. Durnavich and Wimp get this fundamental fact wrong by a factor in the millions!

Thirdly, as described in my chapter, this process will automatically erase any “joins” visible in the large format—simply because of the finite grain size of the Kodachrome II film stock, if not even the finite wavelength of visible light! Although most readers will understandably accept my statement of this as fact, for “experts” such as Durnavich and Wimp to not understand it is damning by itself. This is, literally, first year Physics.

I leave you to speculate for yourself whether Durnavich and Wimp are incompetent or dishonest.

Finally, Durnavich and Wimp describe the problems that George Lucas had with the “joins” in the “Star Wars” trilogy in the late 1970s. Unfortunately for them, my stepson Andy owns the same “Special Edition” box set of the trilogy that was released in the late 1990s that they own: I’ve seen the same “making of” footage that they watched at the start or the end of one of the tapes. I’m horrified to think that this represents the limits of the “expertise” of Durnavich and Wimp. What are they going to quote us next? An interview from “Entertainment Tonight”?

But again, we find that Durnavich and Wimp have absolutely no comprehension of scale. The Zapruder film is less than 27 seconds long. The “Star Wars” trilogy is just slightly longer. The fabricators of the individual frames of the Zapruder film had to churn out something like one or two complete frames per day. The production schedule for the “Star Wars” trilogy was just a tad more hectic. Most of the “Star Wars” trilogy attains the illusion of reality. The hovering vehicles were not done particularly well—not because the technology was not there to do it, but simply because Lucas accepted compromises. In the context of a motion picture, that was his call. But how does his decision to re-do “nearly 100 shots in the snowspeeder attack” using digital technology decades later prove anything about the Zapruder film? What about the other hours of the “Star Wars” trilogy that Lucas did not feel needed any improvement?

Surely, if one were to use “Star Wars” as an example at all, one would point to the all the things Lucas got right, rather than those things that didn’t quite work. Isn’t that what all those awards were for? But that’s not how The Gang works. They ignore the forest, and contemplate one or two trees.

At least they are consistent.

Optical printing (5 pages)

Healy provides a more comprehensive overview of the principles and workings of optical printers, and how they were routinely used with matte-insert technology for special effects in 1960s movies. This technology, by itself, would have been more than sufficient to edit the “Zapruder” film in the first days, weeks and months of the investigation, for the purposes of projection as a moving picture, and even frame-by-frame inspection. (Microscopic analysis of individual frames would only have been allowed on images resulting from photographic editing, as described above and in my chapter.)

The Gang’s response:

No response.

Conclusions (1 page)

Healy explains that the purpose of his chapter is not to provide the proof of the alteration of the Zapruder film (that was for the other researchers to present), but to counter the growing myth that the technology and expertise did not exist in 1963 to perform the task.

The Gang’s response:

Not only did Durnavich and Wimp not respond to this summary, they positively conceal it! See their efforts above.

Durnavich and Wimp somehow recycle Roland Zavada’s comments

The final one-third of the Durnavich and Wimp attack on Healy actually has nothing at all to do with his chapter at all. Rather, they wanted to recycle the comments that Roland Zavada made in 2002 to Gary Mack and Josiah Thompson, that the latter “pals” tried on me, by email, prior to the Duluth Symposium. When my responses were fed back to Zavada, he immediately withdrew from the Symposium. Mack and Thompson claimed ignorance: they were simply repeating what their “star witness” had told them. Zavada, however, clearly realised that he had been working with faulty assumptions—provided to him by none other than Mack and Thompson. His deductions were sound, but they were premised on the Mack–Thompson history and timeline of the Zapruder film. My responses implicitly told Zavada that he had not been told the whole story.

Let me repeat what I have just said: I agreed completely with Zavada’s deductions. His hands-on engineering knowledge of Kodak film eclipses that of most of the rest of the planet combined, of which I am a small part. But his deductions were based on specific assumptions about what was used as the “raw ingredients”, and how much time was available. These assumptions had nothing at all to do with Kodak film, but rather depended on a vast amount of other evidence in the case, of which Zavada only knew the Mack–Thompson opinion. Zavada’s deductions, therefore, while logically and scientifically correct, are of no relevance.

And this is why Zavada pulled out of the Duluth Symposium.

If you are of a scientific bent, feel free to work through Durnavich and Wimp’s lesson on Kodak film stocks, and the problems of faithful reproduction. Everything they present in this lesson looks to be absolutely correct. The problem, of course, is that for this to be of any relevance, one has to assume that the Zapruder film was genuine in the first place, and that it—and only it—was used to create an altered film. The final paragraph of the Durnavich and Wimp missive shows just how little they have comprehended from The Great Zapruder Film Hoax:

The challenge for those claiming Zapruder film alteration is to identify the film stocks from those available in 1963 that will allow forgers to start with Kodachrome camera original film …

Their very premise is false! Why do the fabricators need to start with Kodachrome camera original film? Because, in Durnavich and Wimp’s minds, they’re assuming that the film is simply an altered version of some genuine original Zapruder film! Did they even read my proofs of the fact that the film is necessarily a fabrication, not some minor alteration? Can they not understand that all that one needs to do is provide any path from any set of original films and photographs to a final product that would, within generous tolerances, be spectrally faithful to a genuine outdoor motorcade scene? And that this motorcade scene then simply needs to be exposed onto the Kodachrome II strip of film that Roland Zavada authenticated as genuine Kodachrome II film?

It is difficult to know, in this case, whether Durnavich and Wimp are being deceitful, or whether they are truly bound by their own preconceptions.

Some final comments

David Healy has made the simple observation that The Gang have continually been unable to dig up a single expert in film editing and production techniques to support their bizarre claims. To throw up Durnavich and Wimp—who do their technical research by watching the box set of “Star Wars” and irrelevantly recycling the work of Roland Zavada—is an insult to Healy’s experience and expertise. As Healy himself notes, he’s not going to win any Pulitzer Prizes for his authorship. He’s a film and television expert. Unless The Gang can find someone who has even a fraction of the knowledge and experience of Healy prepared to question his claims, his work stands unchallenged.

His piece of the puzzle is complete.