Thomas Elsaesser The man who described German film history

Thomas Elsaesser at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, 2017.
Thomas Elsaesser at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, 2017. | Photo (detail): © Vera de Kok / CC BY-SA 4.0

Thomas Elsaesser is a film scholar and professor of film and television studies at the University of Amsterdam. His books and essays on film and genre theory, film history and European auteur cinema have been translated into more than 20 languages.

If you deal with film studies and cinema, there is no way around him: Thomas Elsaesser is something of the walking encyclopaedia of film history. In Germany, Elsaesser is especially known for his work on almost all epochs of German film history. He has published over 200 essays and articles in major journals. Born in Berlin in 1943, he moved to the United Kingdom in 1963, where he studied English literature at the University of Sussex and obtained his PhD. In 1968, Elsaesser founded the film magazine Brighton Film Review. After 1971, he continued the magazine in London under the name of Monogramand became internationally known as a critic and theorist of Hollywood movies. Together with Charles Barr, he founded the Film Studies Department at the University of East Anglia in 1976, one of the first independent institutes of film studies in the United Kingdom. In 1991 he moved to the University of Amsterdam, where he founded the Department of Film and Television Studies. Since his retirement in 2008, he has been visiting professor at Yale University and since 2013 at Columbia University in the USA.
What else does he do?
Together with his sister Regine Elsaesser, Elsaesser founded the Martin Elsaesser Foundation in 2009, which is dedicated to the life and work of their grandfather, the architect Martin Elsaesser. A Frankfurt urban architect, Martin Elsaesser designed, among other things, the Frankfurt Grossmarkthalle, a landmarked building that is today part of the new building of the European Central Bank.
From film historian to director
In 2015, Thomas Elsaesser himself became a director. With a few legacies from his grandfather – a suitcase of letters, a handful of poems and a tin canister full of Super 8 films – he described in the documentary Die Sonneninsel(The Sun Island) the career of Martin Elsaesser in the 1930s and 1940s and the complicated marriage with his wife Liesel, who fell in love with the landscape architect Leberecht Migge. The name “Sun Island” refers to a project of Migge, which realized his idea of a complete recycling economy on a small island near Berlin.


Distinguished publications:

Hollywood heute. Geschichte, Gender und Nation im postklassischen Kino (2009)
Terror und Trauma. Zur Gewalt des Vergangenen in der BRD (2007) (German Cinema – Terror and Trauma: Cultural Memory since 1945)
Filmgeschichte und frühes Kino. Archäologie eines Medienwandels (2002)
Metropolis. Der Filmklassiker von Fritz Lang (2001) (Metropolis)
Rainer Werner Fassbinder (2001)
Der Neue Deutsche Film (1989) (New German Cinema: A History)