Film Theory: Intertextuality–Concept, Definition, Types

Research in Progress: Nov 14, 2022


Three types of Intertextuality:

Filmic: the use of elements from other films.

It could be a reference to another single film, or use of conventions and codes from an entire existing genre (a particular Western, musical, sci-fi, horror)

Nonfilmic: the use of conventions and codes from other art forms or systems of representation, such as painting, theater, fashion, graphics, photography

Extrafilmic: the use of signifying practices  that are clearly non-aesthetic in nature, such as law, biology, politics, business.

The scholar Philip Kolker has noted that intertextuality involves:

A celebration of the medium.

An indication of a cinematic community.

Allusions enrich the work by opening it out, pointing to the nature of the film’s own existence.

The work is responsive to other works

Viewers observed the film’s relation not to reality, but to reality of films and mutual influence.

Playful allusiveness to other films within their own work.

Jonathan Culler, Pursuit of Signs:

“Works are not autonomous systems, organic wholes, but intertextual constructs: sequences which have meaning in relation to the other texts which they: take up, cite, parody, refute, or generally transform.

A text can only be read in relation to other texts, and it is made possible by the codes which animate the discursive space of a culture.

The critic Pauline Kael noted that, directors who are deeply in love with a particular film or genre or filmmaker may make an homage to what they love, which strikes many viewers as completely soulless.  But the process need not be soulless.

For Almodovar, intertextuality is a complex network, in which films talk not just to the viewer, but also to each other.  The viewers are asked  to attend to a lively conversation across the vast plain of film history.

While watching Truffaut’s 1961 masterpiece, Jules et Jim, starring Jeanne Moreau, we inevitably think and make allusions and references to other films:

Jacques Demy’s “The Young Girls of Rochefort”

Noel Coward’s “Design for Living”

Peter Bogdanovich’s “At Long Last Love”

Paul Mazursky’s “Willie and Phil”

And other films that center on a romantic triangle, or strong intimate bond between two men.

Anxiety of Influence

There’s direct line of intertextuality, from the stylishly elegant melodramas (women’s pictures) of Max Ophuls to those of Douglas Sirk in the 1950s, to Fassbinder in the 1970s and 1980s to Todd Haynes in the end of the century.

Aggressive Intertextuality:

P. Waugh has noted a tendency towards intertextual overkill, where a director incorporates the outside source material into his newly-created feature. It’s no longer an innocent homage of a shot or a scene.

In this case, the audiences watching and listening to the movies are engaged in an act of cataloguing.

Example: inclusion of TV, use of source music, historical quotes, inversion of star types.



Scorsese’s GoodFellas:

Karen Hall (Lorraine Bracco) watches in a movie house The Jazz Singer (1927), a movie about a Jewish singer failing to reconcile his lifestyle with his parents’ beliefs.  It provides a commentary on her own situation and dilemma.




























































Hall, 15


Culler’s account of realism is that literature is, as it were, an institution in its own right, with its own internal laws.


Kristeva’s concept of intertextuality which argues that literature is best read as a comment on other texts, rather than on society.


Proust cannot be understood without reference to his knowledge of Balzac.




Lionel Thrilling has argued that modern literature has become sufficiently isolated from the larger society to form an adversary culture.



MacKinnon, 142


Movies have become more self-conscious.


Altmans’ The Long Goodbye (l973) demands knowledge of private eye.


Kubrick’s The Shining (l980) of horror (house) movies.


Juxtaposing Hollywood genres with Picasso, mixing documentary and fiction (and later experimenting with video), Godard was the model cineast.  He exerted his influence on a slightly older contemporary like Altman, but the New wave’s real impact was felt by the generation who spent the late sixties in film school.


     Oscar Wilde expressed it in his essay on “The Decay of Living”


“Art never expresses anything but itself. It has an independent life, just as Thought has, and develops purely on its own lines.


It is not necessarily realistic in the age of realism, nor spiritual in an age of faith.


Films are postmodern, filled with humorous quotations from film history, photo-novels, TV melodramas, pop music, advertising, newspapers.






“I find the cliches of popular culture both very funny and very alive; I like to play with them, to create a narrative angle that makes them part of my movies, as they are of my life.”


Scarface–ortiginal and remake


Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables.




It’s not true that works are created by their authors.


Works are created by works, texts by texts.  They speak to and with one another, independently of the intentions of their authors.


  1. Common
  2. Intertextual frames


Common-data-structures for representing stereotypical situations–dining at a restaurant.


Stereotypical situations coming from the previous textual tradition and recorded by our encyclopedia.

But rehashes of old movies, no matter how inspired, are almost by definition synthetic.

An homage, according to Peter Stone, is a plagiarism that your lawyer tells you is not actionable.