The Digital Gesture: Rediscovering Cinematic Movement through Gifs – Hampus Hagman

Norman in Psycho.

An animated gif uses the Graphics Interchange Format to create movement from still images. The outcome is a short clip with jerky motion that has been described, quite aptly, as a “digital flip book”.[1] The device has been around since the 1980s, but due to its bite-size format, the ease of circulating it, and the availability of tools for creating one, the gif has in the last few years returned to become a widely popular item on blogs and tumblrs. Content-wise, animated gifs frequently consist of a few frames culled from a pre-existing movie. This brief moment is then looped in order to give the impression of a (somewhat) continuous movement. What is noteworthy about these mini movies is that they, quite often, focus on the “minor” moments of a film, such as, for instance, scenes from Gone With the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939) with Hattie McDaniel rather than the more memorable scenes of, say, the “Frankly, dear, I don’t give a damn” caliber.[2] Of course, the more iconic scenes get heavily referenced as well, but due to the brevity of the format, gifs are more suitable for mannerisms and gestures than “big” dramatic moments. The gifs that work the best are therefore those that manage to withdraw themselves from being representative of the films from which they are sourced in order to create a logic and economy of motion wholly their own.

It has been suggested that the compressed nature of the gif is ideal for our contemporary culture of distraction.[3] According to this view, the “video-shorthand” of the format corresponds to a cultural tendency toward ever-increasing abbreviation of information output and decreased temporal commitment.[4] Are we to believe, then, that gifs are part of the same contemporary logic that makes us prefer the quickness of twittering to the more time consuming activity of writing a blog post? Considering that gifs appear frequently on microblogging platforms such as Tumblr, maybe so.

But I think we miss something crucial about the attraction of the gif if we only take it to be a cultural symptom of our hectic times. The gif is more than just an easy means to share clips from favorite TV shows or movies in unaltered form. That the gif would be little more than a less time consuming, shorthanded replacement for the movie that it references is contradicted by the fact that, more often than not, the technology is used to alter the content of the original, sometimes beyond recognition. The gif, in other words, is more a matter of creation than recycling. At the heart of this creative intervention lies a recognition of cinematic movement as a force of differentiation and metamorphosis. As I will argue, the impetus behind the animated gif is as old as cinema itself.

Some historians and theorists of the moving image have pointed out that before film was organized into narrative sequences and stories, what enthralled filmmakers and spectators alike was the sheer fact that the images moved.[5] The central procedure of the gif consists in the restitution of fascination with the fundamental element of cinema: movement. It thus reveals a commitment to cinema rather than a devaluation of it. The animated gif is characterized by the attempt to make movement strange again, to assert a power of movement all its own, liberated from the responsibility of making it mean and carry out narrative goals. This inclination can be stressed by viewing the animated gif as a form of gesture.

In his short essay “Notes on Gesture” philosopher Giorgio Agamben argues that “the element of cinema is gesture and not image”.[6] A true gesture, suggests Agamben, is neither a means to an end nor an end without means, it is means as such, the manifestation of pure mediality. Cinema¾at least in its earliest manifestation and the chronophotographic experiments that paved the way for it¾liberates human movement from being purposeful, it is the exhibition of the medium of movement for and by itself. Stephen Crocker lucidly brings forth this point:

The effect of Muybridge’s photographic and filmic experiments such as Man Walking at Normal Speed was to take recognized gestures and, through the technical capacity of film, to remove them from the sensory motor schemas and purposes in which they are usually embedded. Early film and photography revealed the sheer taking place, or the “means” of human embodiment. The arm swinging is no longer part of a march. It is simply an arm swinging, arrested in its being toward some completed activity. If it were allowed to continue in its stride, the swing would be a means to carrying out some ambulatory goal. Removed from its terminal point, however, it is simply a gesture, a means of moving the human body in a yet to be determined pattern. This decontextualization of movement allowed a new understanding of human embodiment, which spread into psychology, physiology and other sciences. For Agamben, it suggests that cinema is not defined by the image and the dialectic of reality/representation, so much as its ability to display the “pure mediality” of our actions.[7]

However, it should be noted that narrative cinema tends to subordinate the gesture to the larger whole in which it is embedded and through which it receives its meaning. Hereby, the gesture is not allowed to stand by itself “decontextualized”, in the word of Crocker’s elucidation but becomes goal-oriented and causal in nature. As Benjamin Noys points out, Agamben is quite hostile to narrative cinema. His sympathies rather lie with avant-garde cinema since it more prominently exhibits the medium as such. Appropriately enough for our purposes, Agamben regards repetition of images as a way to “free the gestures within them”.[8] When gesture is liberated, its pure mediality manifests itself as potential, and because of this, Agamben sees in the gesture a political and ethical dimension.

As noted above, the gif, too, employs repetition not as a principle of sameness but as a principle of difference. By virtue of its looped repetition, movement is displaced from the circumscribed meaning it had in its original context and never reaches its narrative telos. When this happens, one is able to see beyond the representative content of movement and instead become aware of the altering force of movement to produce other meanings. I would like to argue, therefore, that the animated gif emerges in recognition of this pure potentiality of the gestural motion of cinema. By liberating a moment from its hosting narrative, the gif restores to cinema the gestural quality that has been veiled by its causal embeddedness. The gif can be said to perform the sort of decontextualization that Crocker writes of, and thereby cinematic movement is rebooted—given a second life as it were—outside the strictures of the narratives from which they originate. Hereby, the original meaning of a movement or gesture counts for little. Rather, it is the potential of movement to be put to other purposes that is asserted. Can we not, then, see the gif as a means to salvage the gesture from a cinema that has rendered it merely a means to an end and values it mainly for its accomplishment of narrative goals? A great many gifs are based on films with strong linear and causal structures. But what they do is to take hold of the excess inherent to them, to the effect that their original meanings are subverted, or at least opened up to recontextualizations.

The site GIFuniverse revels in this excessive power of movement.[9] The principle of repetition is here not only deployed temporally, but also spatially. Combining the successive repetitiveness of the gif with the spatial juxtaposition of the split screen, the whole screen is here filled with row upon row of pulsating, rhythmic and dancing imagery, all set to an accompanying musical soundtrack. The images displayed are of decidedly varied origin and content (amateur home videos appear next to clips from films and television; animation next to live action; scientific models next to low-brow visual gags) but their musical setting makes the visual field less chaotic than one might imagine. It is rather as if all the images were interacting components in a common rhythm: as if one were witness to some heterogeneous balletic choreography. Before the contemplation of specific content or the identification of visual forms can take place here, what strikes the viewer is the sheer excess of movement.

Cinematic culture has always been fascinated with the transformative and autonomous powers of movement. In his essay, “Loïe Fuller and the Art of Motion”, Tom Gunning relates how the invention of cinema was welcomed by the changing aesthetic ideas of movement in the late 19th and early 20th century. Spearheading a lot of the new thoughts on movement was philosopher Henri Bergson, whom Gunning approvingly quotes: “In reality, the body is changing form at every moment; or rather, there is no form, since form is immobile and the reality is movement. What is real is the change of form: form is only a snapshot view of transition.”[10] In line with such thinking, the Symbolists and the Futurists saw “motion as force in itself, a plasmatic energy that creates form rather than simply moves them about”.[11] Gunning takes Loïe Fuller’s serpentine dances as the exemplary demonstration of this metamorphic dimension of movement, but early cinema too celebrated movement for its own sake, with little or no narrative concerns. This leads Gunning to speak of movement as a matrix of meaning rather than meaning itself.[12]

So, is this detour through early cinema meant to imply that the animated gif heralds a return to a more “pure” state of the moving image? Blogger Kelli Marshall suggests something along these lines.[13] Indeed, as Marshall points out, on a technical and receptive level gifs do bear striking similarities to early cinema, or even proto-cinema: they are silent, they are viewed in private (Marshall is here making a comparison to the Kinetoscope in particular and how it allowed for viewing by only one person at a time) and they run on a loop. But, in addition to Marshall’s account, what is most striking about many gifs is their almost fetishistic fascination with pure movement, something they share with early cinema. The capacity of movement to transform is celebrated in many gifs. Through the circular continuity of the loop, a familiar bodily activity is rendered strange and bereft of regular sensorimotor causality. Through such forces of repetition and extension, the gif seems to tap into the matrix of movement that Gunning writes about. Gunning’s account leads us to recognize the excessive character of cinematic movement, which entails that it can take on meanings different from the one that it has reified into by serving as an agency of causal structures. Viewing the gif through the lens of Agamben’s gesture underscores this matrixial quality of movement, its dimension of pure mediality. As we shall see, however¾and this is where the digital component enters the equation¾the gif carries the gesture of movement to an ethical level beyond mere subjective cinephilia. The main difference from earlier cinema is that the gif makes our fascination with movement communicable and shareable, rather than just being the source of private consumption.

But before the gif can enter into circulation we must shed light on the logic that produces it in the first place. We must, in other words, explore what aspects of the film experience may count as “gestural”, and how these may be allowed to stand by themselves even in the face of films that work to neutralize them.

Methods of extraction: cinephilia and excess

One of the fundamental dictates of textual analysis is that the part is interpreted in light of the whole. For the cinephile, on the other hand, it is of little concern how something may or may not fit into the objective structures of meaning. Christian Keathley, quoting Paul Willeman, defines cinephilia as ”what is seen [that] is in excess of what is shown.”[14] Cinephilia is hence a stance of dissociation; of taking a detail from a movie and extracting it from the flow into which it is embedded. It is, as Keathley argues, a form of fetishism. The “cinephiliac moment” has nothing to do with those scenes inscribed into our collective memory banks, which is to say moments that are designed to be memorable, such as, for instance, the shower scene in Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960). It is on the contrary those moments of purely subjective enjoyment, whose precise appeal may be difficult to communicate to others. The gif can be regarded as a way of visualizing this subjective fetishism for a wider public. The animated gifs that are encountered all over the internet very seldom tell a story: on the contrary they seize hold of those purely excessive moments that carry little to no narrative purpose.

There exists a minor tradition in film theory that seeks to shed light on those moments of films that are not contained by more dominant signifying structures, but that are, simply, excessive. In the essay “The Third Meaning”, Roland Barthes ponders a collection of stills from Eisenstein’s films and wonders just what it is that affects him about them. He reaches the conclusion that beyond the “obvious meaning” contained in the informational and symbolic levels of a film there exists a third meaning that is not as easy to pin down. He attempts to capture this dimension by writing about how different stylistic elements in the mise-en-scene interact with one another. There is one still in particular that attracts Barthes’ attention. It is of an old woman from Battleship Potemkin (1925), and in it, Barthes finds that there is something striking about the purely formal relation between the lines of the woman’s headdress, her closed eyelids, and the shape of her mouth. To the scientific mind, Barthes ruminations may appear completely arbitrary, but this is exactly the point. The obtuse meaning escapes objective determination, it has its base in subjective reaction. Despite his assertions to the contrary, Barthes appears a proper cinephile when writing: “I believe that the obtuse meaning carries a certain emotion. […][This] emotion is never sticky, it is an emotion that simply designates what one loves, what one wants to defend: an emotion-value, an evaluation.”[15]

Barthes points out that the “third meaning” might only be accessible through the film still, the fragment. In the normal course of watching a film, the third meaning is drowned in the flow of images. However, as we can see from Keathley’s text, the cinephile knows how to cling onto these fleeting moments and details, even in the process of viewing a film. One reason that s/he is able to do so is because the cinephile is prone to repeat viewings.

Kristin Thompson has built upon Barthes’s discussion of the third meaning in order to develop a “concept of cinematic excess”. Excess is that which is not contained by a film’s unifying structures: “At that point where motivation fails, excess begins.”[16] Thompson suggests that one way to become aware of excess is through experimental films that examine already existing films, rearranging and repeating their components and bringing forth other qualities than those relating to narrative. After discussing films that have proceeded along these lines, such as Ken Jabob’s Tom, Tom, the Piper’s Son (1969) and Joseph Cornell’s Rose Hobart (late 1930s), Thompson disclaims that she “mean[s] to imply that the spectator or critic will be led to aesthetic creations of their own as a result of watching for excess.”[17] And yet, this is precisely what has happened. A gif do not require particularly sophisticated technology. Anyone can make one: software is available for free online and there is an app on the iPhone.[18] The availability of means to intervene into a movie¾to dissect and reconfigure its components¾has entailed that the excessive details from movies that were previously stored in the private memory banks of individual cinephiles have now become public property. By intensifying the excessive moments through repetitive looping and posting them online, viewer has now become purveyor of cinephiliac moments.

Some sites manifestly thrive on the excessive details of cinema. The blog If We Don’t, Remember Me wears its cinephile tastes on its sleeve.[19] Originator Gustav Mantel here posts shots from classic films such as The Seventh Seal (Ingmar Bergman, 1957), Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960), Full Metal Jacket (Stanley Kubrick, 1987), 8 ½ (Federico Fellini, 1963), and Peeping Tom (Michael Powell, 1960) to mention but a few. The technique he uses to present them is called “cinemagraph”, which makes use of the gif format, but is visually different from traditional animation uses of it in that it can more properly be described as a combination of still photography and video. The results are “living movie stills”, as Mantel calls them: images that are essentially still but for a small part. Many of the images collected on the blog appear, at a casual glance, completely still. But attending to them long enough, something suddenly jolts into motion.


In an emblematic image, Edward Norton from Fight Club (David Fincher, 1999) sits with his eyes closed in an airplane chair—as if frozen in a dream—for what appears to be a quite significant amount of time. Suddenly, the image springs into motion the very same moment that he opens his eyes to directly face the viewer.[20] The effect is not unlike the moment in Chris Marker’s La Jetée (1962) when, in the midst of a film composed of still images, there is a sudden eruption of movement as the girl opens her eyes. The coinciding of the opening of eyes with the moment of animation makes the sequence resonate with symbolic implications in regard to the gif’s repurposing of cinematic movement. According to one of the founding stories of cinema, the first exhibition of the Lumière brothers’ film L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat in 1896 started with a still image. Only after a while was it jolted into motion to render the impact of movement all the more striking. Similarly the cinemagraph explores the relation and difference between stillness and movement in order to let the viewer see movement anew with, as it were, freshly awakened eyes.

Even though the creators of the technique of the cinemagraph states that it was “born out of a need to tell a story in a fast digital age”[21] it is used more frequently to intensify a moment that may have little to no narrative purpose. The animated gif can therefore be seen as a properly cinephiliac gesture, underscoring minor moments that are lost in the more regular circumstances of viewing a film. Consider, for example, two gifs of Marlon Brando, the first from A Streetcar Named Desire (Elia Kazan, 1951), the second from On The Waterfront (Elia Kazan, 1954). The first intervenes in a flirtatious scene between Stanley Kowalski (Marlon Brando) and Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh). Brando leans toward Leigh and cracks a little smile. Decontextualized and looped, the original meaning of these gestures never reaches their assigned destination. Instead, Brando here takes on an almost vampyric quality, appearing as if about to take a bite out of Leigh.[22] In the clip from On the Waterfront, Brando points to his nose while chewing gum and arching his eyebrows.[23] Nothing more significant than that. Here meaning is drained from the image to the extent that it is difficult to make any sort of determinations or analogies as to the proper content of these gestures whatsoever. Rather, it’s all about the gestural interplay of the lines and shapes of the image: the way Brando’s profile lines up with the angle of his finger and the way that his arched eyebrows serves as an exclamation mark to this little fugue of movement.

“The third meaning: Brando demonstrating the excess of movement”

That it is Marlon Brando that appears in these clips is therefore highly symptomatic from the viewpoint of excess. His method acting offers a gallery of eccentric mannerisms and excessive gestures, all ripe for cinephiliac appropriation. Originally, of course, Brando’s technique was developed in view of lending psychological depth to his characters, and hence meant to be deployed in the service of narrative. But as Kristin Thompson notes a propos excess, “stylistic elements may serve at once to contribute to the narrative and to distract our perception from it.”[24] Once we are consumed by the excessive detail it parts way with the (objective) story and enters into another (more subjectively defined) story. This is why Thompson regards excess as counter-narrative.

Trying to describe the strange, twitching movements contained in these clips I find myself struggling to find words. This is not exactly the stuff of high drama, which is why it is quite hard to capture the exact appeal of the gif, or even offer an adequate description of it. Their reconfiguration of human embodiment by technical means places them in the Freudian category of the “uncanny”: they are both familiar and unfamiliar. The meaning they communicate is indeed “obtuse”, to use Barthes’ word. Barthes suggests that the obtuse third meaning cannot be described, that it resists meta-language. It is a “signifier without a signified” and, as such, can only be indicated by “pointing” to it rather that representing it in words.[25] This is why, according to Barthes, the third meaning is where the specifically “filmic” resides. The third meaning accentuates what language is not: the part in a film which escapes the grasp of words and therefore asserts itself as a wholly different medium. This returns us to Agamben’s gesture. The gesture displays nothing more than its own potentiality, it has no meaningful content. The gesture displays nothing more than its own potentiality, it has no meaningful content. Gesture is about suspending and supporting, about “enduring” rather than accomplishing and carrying through.[26] The gif asserts this supportive power of movement through its presentation of looping as a method of continuation.

Looping as enduring

Most gifs do not offer closure. As I have suggested above, their purpose is not to capture an event in its entirety, where beginning and end are clearly marked, and the loop is just a way to show the sequence all over again. The point is rather to make the looping structure enter into the perception of the content. The challenge of the gif is to isolate a moment from a film that is compatible with the technique’s looping structure. To this end, the most successful gifs make use of the repetitive or circular motions already present in the original source. It is no coincidence that animated gifs are frequently used for porn. The repetitiveness of the thrusting motions in porn makes the intervention of looping nearly indistinguishable from the original content. In these cases, the gif carves a slice out of a fleeting moment of movement and extends it to a hypothetical infinity that is already a logical possibility of the activity inherent in the original source. The satisfaction is that of isolating a moment of motion that appears self-sustaining, closed in on itself in a perfect loop. They can hereby be said to employ excess as a method of suspension and continuation. Through this logic we are presented with, for instance, Jeff Bridges as “the Dude” stirring his White Russian in The Big Lebowski (Joel Coen, 1998),[27] or Charles Foster Kane’s resolute clapping in a scene from Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)[28] extended, hypothetically, ad infinitum. The natural repetitiveness and circularity of these kinds of activities puts them in close proximity to the artificial manipulation of looping. What is striking about these extensions of movement is their excessively useless character. Their purpose is not to represent anything or carry some point across. It is simply to sustain a basic motion for as long as possible.

“Motion as sustaining force: The Dude locked in a perfect loop”

There are, of course, “punch-line” gifs that carry a more explicit purpose. In these cases, a movement is altered by the structure of the loop in order to suggest a repetitive action with a meaning that subverts the original content. It is popular, for instance, to loop a hip movement in order to give it a sexual connotation that it does not have in original form.[29] But in both its extending and altering modes of movement the gif can be said to explore movement as nothing more or less than a sustaining force. The motions produced by these gifs are not inherent to the original sources. Nevertheless, we are able to read them as continuous activities. But the movement is neither a means to achieve goals beyond itself (it is not employed to carry out narrative goals), nor is it an end (to be quite literal about it, the looped gif does not come to an end: as is evidenced by the examples above, movement can here be extended to a hypothetical infinity). Agamben writes: “What characterizes gesture is that in it nothing is being produced or acted, but rather something is being endured and supported.”[30]

“The punch-line gif: the altering power of movement: Twilight”


Gesture as circulation

This is what the gif does: it shows movement as pure support; as the medium that carries actions and events. It is not a matter of communicating a particular content, but of showing movement as a medium of communicability as such. In itself, it is pure becoming and process, and this is key to understanding its success as an item of networked circulation. Through its decontextualized status as pure medium, it is free to enter into many different contexts. Gifs are frequently used to answer a question from a follower on a blog. In these contexts the gif can be supplied with a more definite meaning. When the gif is recontextualized as a response to a question, the excess set free at the first stage is “sutured”, given a home as part of discourse, and is hence supplied with a more definite meaning. [31] We might say that in these cases, the empty signifier of the gif is completed with a signified with the consequence that pure gesture is reified into image. But the reason it can do so is that it is recognized in its pure mediality in the first place. Recontextualization is hence only a by-product of a preceding decontextualization of movement. And it is this momentary suspension of movement that makes it resonate in many different contexts and hence spurs on its circulation. The gif presents movement not as a vehicle for achieving a particular goal (for instance narrative closure) but as pure mediality and communicability.

If we may so bold as to call the art of the gif an ethics of cinema, it is because it emerges in recognition of movement as a medium of support and circulation. The gif is gestural not only in the sense that it, in a cinephiliac manner, feeds off and liberates the gestures of cinema, but also in the sense that the gif itself gestures toward further use. The distributive chain of movement as gesture that the gif performs, and which I have here attempted to sketch, can be summarized thusly: a (cinephiliac) viewer recognizes an element of excess in a movie. By “giffing” it, this element is detached from its original meaning, but not, necessarily, in order for it to take on another definite meaning. What is released at this creative stage is simply movement as a deterritorialized force. Posted online, another viewer recognizes the strange and altered form a (possibly) familiar moment from a film has taken, and hence becomes aware of movement as pure potential. Quite literally, it gestures to him or her. Maybe this viewer has a blog and decides to use the gif for his or her own purposes. Now, integrated into a personal discourse, it can receive a temporary meaning. But another viewer can put it to other purposes. Hence, the gif can achieve many different closures in many different contexts rather than one absolute, determinate meaning. Hereby the gif asserts the generalizable character of gesture, its status as example. As Stephen Crocker writes: “to stand out as an example, the phenomenon must be able to suspend its own functionality and purpose, because only then can it show how it belongs to the set. What it displays in that case is not only its own singularity, but also the thing in its medium of activity.”[32]

Showing the thing in the “medium of activity” demonstrates a potential and can hence instigate further activity. This is why Agamben attributes to gesture an ethical and political dimension. The gif can in accordance with this be considered an ethical gesture not only in the sense that it liberates and re-potentializes cinematic movement, but also in the sense that it gestures toward further circulation and sharing of the moments of cinema.


Agamben, Giorgio. “Notes on Gesture” (1992), in Means Without End: Notes on Politics, trans. V. Binetti and C. Casarino, Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2000.

Barthes, Roland. “The Third Meaning” (1970), in Image-Music-Text, transl. by Stephen Heath, New York: Hill and Wang, 1977.

Bergson, Henri. Creative Evolution, trans. Arthur Mitchell, Boston: University Press of America, 1983.

Cubitt, Sean. The Cinema Effect, Cambridge: MIT Press, 2005.

Gunning, Tom. “Loïe Fuller and the Art of Motion: Body, Light, Electricity, and the Origins of Cinema”, in Camera Obscura, Camera Lucida: Essays in Honor of Annette Michelson, eds. Richard Allen and Malcolm Turvey, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2003.

Keathley, Christian. The Cinephiliac Moment”, in Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media, issue 42, 2000.

Oudart, Jean-Pierre. “Cinema and Suture”, in Screen, 18 (4), 1977.

Thompson, Kristin. “The Concept of Cinematic Excess” (1981), in Narrative, Apparatus, Ideology: A Film Theory Reader, ed. Philip Rosen, New York: Columbia University Press, 1986.


Online References

Alexander, Leigh. “Why We Love Animated Gifs”, posted May 24, 2011 on

Crocker, Stephen. “Noises and Exceptions: Pure Mediality in Serres and Agamben” published 3/28/2007 on

Marshall, Kelli. “Animated Gifs, Cinemagraphs, and our Return to Early  Cinema”, posted on June 8, 2011 on

Nelson, Noah J. “So Long Animated GIFs, Hello Cinemagraph”, posted  April 20 2011, on

Noys, Benjamin. “Gestural Cinema: Giorgio Agamben on Film” in Film-Philosophy Journal, Vol. 8, No. 22, July 2004 on

Wortham, Jenna. “Instant Loops of Images, From an iPhone App”, posted  April 7, 2011, on the New York Times blog,


Blogs and Tumblrs

3 Frames:

A Pebble in my Shoe:

Bye Gurl, Bye:

Everything You Love to Hate:

Fuck Yeah Reactions:

GIF Party:


Gif World:

If We Don’t, Remember Me:

Reaction Gif:

Tea, Earl Grey, Hot:



[1] Jenna Wortham, “Instant Loops of Images, From an iPhone App”, posted April 7, 2011, on the New York Times blog,, checked November 9, 2012.

[2] See the blog A Pebble in my Shoe:, checked November 9, 2012.

[3] Leigh Alexander, “Why We Love Animated Gifs”, posted May 24, 2011 on Thought Catalog, checked November 9, 2012.

[4] Ibid.

[5] See for instance Sean Cubitt’s The Cinema Effect, Cambridge: MIT Press, 2005. Cubitt proceeds from the pure difference of movement¾which he conceptualizes as “the pixel”¾ as the theoretical and historical first principle of cinema which is only secondarily tamed by narrative.

[6] Giorgio Agamben, “Notes on Gesture” (1992), in Means Without End: Notes on Politics trans. V. Binetti and C. Casarino Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2000. 55.

[7] Stephen Crocker, “Noises and Exceptions: Pure Mediality in Serres and Agamben” published on, 3/28/2007., checked November 9, 2012. Unpaginated.

[8] Benjamin Noys, “Gestural Cinema?: Giorgio Agamben on Film” in Film-Philosophy, Vol. 8, No. 22, July 2004., checked November 9, 2012. Unpaginated.

[9], checked November 9, 2012.

[10] Ibid. 87. Bergson’s quote is from Creative Evolution, trans. Arthur Mitchell, Boston: University Press of America, 1983. 302.  

[11] Tom Gunning, “Loïe Fuller and the Art of Motion: Body, Light, Electricity, and the Origins of Cinema”, in Camera Obscura, Camera Lucida: Essays in Honor of Annette Michelson, eds. Richard Allen and Malcolm Turvey, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2003. 80.

[12] Gunning beautifully sums up Loïe Fuller’s serpentine dances in these words: “As the embodiment of Symbol, she was meaning divorced from specificity, an image unmoored by reference or representation, becoming purely the flow of movement in all its sensuality and its constantly changing, evocative pursuit of analogy – the pulsing matrix of meaning itself.” 81. See also p. 85.

[13] Kelli Marshall, “Animated Gifs, Cinemagraphs, and our Return to Early Cinema”, posted on June 8, 2011., checked November 9, 2012.

[14] Christian Keathley, “The Cinephiliac Moment”, in Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media, issue 42, 2000. Available online:, checked November 9, 2012. Unpaginated.

[15] Roland Barthes, “The Third Meaning” (1970), in Image-Music-Text, transl. by Stephen Heath, New York: Hill and Wang, 1977. 59. Emphasis in original.

[16] Kristin Thompson, “The Concept of Cinematic Excess”, in Narrative, Apparatus, Ideology: A Film Theory Reader, ed. Philip Rosen, New York: Columbia University Press, 1986. 135.

[17] Ibid. 141.

[18] See, checked November 9, 2012.

[19], checked November 9, 2012.

[20] Come to think of it, many of Mantel’s clips revolve around eyes that are suddenly opened to look out at the viewer. See for instance clips from Psycho, Darjeeling Limited, Moon, Persona, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, Orlando, Solyaris, Alphaville.

[21] Noah J. Nelson, “So Long Animated GIFs, Hello Cinemagraph”, posted April 20 2011,, checked November 9, 2012.

[24] Thompson, “The Concept of Cinematic Excess”. 134.

[25] Barthes, “The Third Meaning”. 61.

[26] Agamben, “Notes on Gesture”. 56.

[29] See for instance, checked November 9, 2012.

[30] Agamben, “Notes on Gesture”. 56.

[31] I am here riffing on the theoretical notion of “suture”, popular in the 1970s and 80s. According to the importer of the term into film theory, Jean-Pierre Oudart, the purpose of the reverse-shot in film is to answer the question that is posed for the spectator in a previous shot. Suppose, for instance, that we are shown a shot of a landscape. After a moment’s enjoyment of this view, the spectator soon begins to wonder why it is being shown to her or him. The reverse shot gives the answer to this query, because in it we are usually shown a character to whose vision the previous shot supposedly belongs. One image hereby bestows meaning upon another, to the effect that the spectator is released from interpretive responsibility. Jean-Pierre Oudart, “Cinema and Suture”, in Screen, 18 (4), 1977. The blog Everything You Love to Hate is notorious among its followers for its “cheeky” use of gifs in response to questions and comments. Some examples:,,, links checked November 9, 2012. On a related note, there are entire blogs devoted to “Reaction gifs” that just seem to cry out for re-appropriation. Some examples:, and, links checked November 9, 2012.

[32] Crocker, “Noises and Exceptions”. Unpaginated.



Hampus Hagman is putting the finishing touches to his dissertation, which examines the split screen as a meta-reflexive device for the management of unrepresentable content. He is also a freelance writer.