…the passing of our dear colleague Prof. Thomas Elsaesser, whose enormous dedication to the manifold connections between film and history was a substantial part of his oeuvre. We will miss him dearly.
Born in 1943 in Berlin, Thomas Elsaesser was German by birth, and yet truly a citizen of the world. Elsaesser moved to Great Britain to study in 1963, which became his adopted home for many years. After having spent some time at the Sorbonne in Paris, he had not yet decided upon a subject of study. Eventually, his doctoral thesis would come to analyze the work of two historians who had studied the French Revolution.
The thesis was a contribution to comparative literature, and back then, he must have envisioned a career in this field, but the year 1968 found him as an editor of the “Brighton Film Review”, subsequently titled “Monogram”. He kept editing the journal while he was teaching English and French Literature, and shortly afterwards founded the first department entirely focused on film. Literature and history had finally led him to film studies. He would come to help define this new dynamic field of academic study, while teaching at the University of Amsterdam. This is where, from 1991 onwards, he explored the many facets of the fairly new discipline of film studies, focusing on Hollywood cinema, German cinema during the Weimar Republic, questions of genre, and connections between film and history. He also dedicated much attention to the work of filmmakers such as Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Harun Farocki. His book on Fritz Lang’s Metropolis remains the work of reference, and his movie Sonneninsel (2017) about the history of his family and the connections to reformer Leberecht Migge marked his departure as a film director and film writer.
We will miss him as a colleague, critic and advisor. We will also miss him as a guest speaker and brilliant contributor to the International Bremen Film Conference that he regularly visited since its very beginnings in the 1990s.
On behalf of the “Research in Film and History”-team
Delia González de Reufels & Winfried Pauleit