In 1975, the landscape of the Kennedy assassination debate was forever changed when the American people finally got a chance to see the infamous Zapruder film, an amateur 8mm home movie, which serves as the most complete photographic record of the assassination sequence. The authorities and Time/Life (who owned the rights to the film) had done their best to suppress the footage from the public, but when the Zapruder film was subpoenaed by New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison for his investigation into the Kennedy assassination, several bootleg copies were leaked to various interested parties.
A young researcher named Robert Groden obtained a high-quality copy of the film, and screened the footage on Geraldo Rivera’s talk show program. The studio audience, and indeed the whole country, was shocked and horrified at this graphic footage of the President’s untimely demise. After the screening, Groden took great pains to point out the President’s movements after the final shot. The President’s head and upper body, Groden noted, moved violently back and to the left. Groden asserted that this movement indicated a the fatal shot originating from the front of President Kennedy. This assertion contradicted the government’s version of the assassination, detailed in the oft-maligned “Warren Report,” which concluded that the head shot had been fired from behind the President by Lee Harvey Oswald in the Texas School Book Depository. If Groden’s interpretation of the footage was correct, then the back and to the left motion was the evidence Warren Commission critics needed to blow the lid off of the official story.
With Oliver Stone’s 1991 film JFK, “back and to left” became part of the pop culture idiom. The film depicts Kevin Costner, portraying Jim Garrison, repeating the phrase ad nauseam in the climatic court room scene.
“Back and to the left” then quickly became the subject of several other references and parodies in other forms of pop entertainment, from the sitcom Seinfeld, to the short-lived animated series The Critic. I’ve seen this video has been on YouTube for years. Within days of me placing it on this context in this web site, it has been removed. Somebody doesn’t want me writing about this.
But after all these years, just what does “back and to the left” tell us, if anything, about the true nature of President Kennedy’s assassination?
Like most aspects of the assassination debate, researchers and historians are divided into several distinct camps concerning the “back and to the left” phenomenon. Some contend that the “back and to the left” motion was caused by the “jet effect.” According to this explanation, the momentum from tissue flying out of the exit wound on the front right of President Kennedy’s skull caused the head to snap violently back and to the left. If the front right wound was indeed a wound of exit, then the shot must of come from the rear of the President, thus corroborating the Warren Commission’s interpretation of the assassination sequence.
For others, the explanation of the “back and to the left” phenomenon is not a matter of physics, but a matter of neuromuscular biology. According to this explanation, the wounds sustained by the President caused a neuromuscular spasm which sent the President’s head flying back and to the left.
For some, it is simply a matter of Newtonian physics. Since every action must have an equal and opposite reaction, a back and to the left motion must be the result of an impact from the right front, the approximate location of the infamous grassy knoll. In this case, “back and the left” would elucidate a conspiracy, or at least a shooter other than Oswald.