We can read images on four levels:
- Literal: What we see. In this frame from The Unforgiven (1992), we see familiar actors, Morgan Freeman and Clint Eastwood, costumed as old west gunslingers.
- Textual: Where the image fits in the text. This particular scene takes on meaning in relation to other scenes before, and adds meaning to scenes to come.
- Intertextual: Similar images called to mind from other texts. This scene has a place in the universe of other western movies, especially those starring Eastwood as a fast gun for hire.
- Mythic: Relation to myths and legends. All westerns take their cues from history and art, such as the paintings of Frederic Remington.
Intertextuality is a good notion for studying how media texts came into being. This involves locating its place among previous texts, especially those that are similar in type, or genre.