Rowsell, J. (2014). “The mood is in the shot”: the challenge of moving-image texts to multimodality. Text & Talk, 34(3), 307-324.

In this article, Jennifer Roswell performs a case study of two filmmakers with vastly different techniques to “challenge perceptions of what modes can do and what they can evoke” (pg. 307). In her theoretical framework, she combines Kress’ discussion of ‘“epistemological commitments’ designed by sign-makers to craft image representations” (pg 309), and Merleau-Ponty’s work on “embodiment of the world and the co-existence of space and things” (pg 310). In short, Kress focuses on the semiotics of filmmaking, while Merleau-Ponty argues that meaning is influenced by the history of visuals, from which we cannot sever ourselves. The objects of study are Robin Benger and Tobias Wiegand: Benger is a documentary filmmaker who takes advantage of available modes in order to tell a story; Wiegand produces animated films, in which the story is pre-planned and modes are afforded by the technical process of creation. In both instances, the filmmakers rely heavily on modes to invoke emotion, however their approaches are quite different.

Roswell determines that three themes emerge from her interviews: “the role of the producer as rhetor; how producers materialize ideas, emotions, and values in a text; and modal affordances with their potential to emotionalize scenes in moving-image texts” (pg. 316). Benger views his role as a rhetor as a way to “nudge the world in a better direction” (pg. 316); Wiegand, on the other hand, believes his role is to explore “the ubiquitous use, enjoyment, understanding of immersive worlds” (pg. 317). In terms of how the filmmakers produce emotions in their texts, Benger takes advantage of the optics available to emphasize a mood, while Wiegand develops mood from a more general starting point, creating it through specifically crafted details added in the filmmaking process. Finally, Benger takes advantage of available modes to “create a cinematographica rhythm” (pg. 320), while Wiegand emotionalizes scenes through the process of creating and then combining various modes.

Roswell introduces ”an ontology for moving-image production” (pg. 322). It begins with Merleau-Ponty’s idea of “senses, felt connections, perceived worlds.” These senses are materialized through “modes, affordances, communication, representation” as discussed by Kress. Next, the sign-maker, based on “habitus, interest, audience,” makes decisions that inform their modal choices. Finally, the audience views the text, and meaning is created by a communication between “habitus, interest, felt connections.” Roswell concludes that cases like Benger and Wiegand “call into question [her] efforts at a logic of production” (pg. 323). While there is a basic ontology to filmmaking, there is a “profound, often ephemeral role” (pg 323) in the modal decisions of signmakers and the interpretation of audiences. Therefore, Roswell concludes that she is inconclusive: she wonders if it is even possible to create a grammar for the perceptual.

Roswell’s work is very useful in that it demonstrates the challenges that rhetors face when creating multimodal texts. Each text-creator is faced with a different set of modal affordances, and it is up to him/her to determine the best use of those modes based on the audience. This is relevant to my discussion on response GIFs because in order to understand why a certain GIF was used by an online commenter, we need to understand these factors at play. The commenter has seemingly endless possibilities. A GIF can be created out of the millions of film/videos that have been made, however the GIF-maker is limited to what is available online, and then further limited by the software available. And, for a less technically-inclined commenter without software access/knowledge, he/she is further limited to GIFs that have already been created by others. Even then, there is a further limitation on how much time a commenter has to make and/or browse GIFs, because there is a temporal element to online comment sections, where the most relevant commenters are also the quickest. Considering all of these modal affordances and restrictions is imperative to understanding the rhetorical workings at hand for reaction GIFs. Roswell’s conclusion of inconclusiveness is unsatisfying, but an important limitation to keep in mind when discussing multimodal texts.


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