When parents – or grandparents – pass away, they tend to leave behind a trove of (audio-)visual material, whose uneven temporalities, non-synchronicities and accidentally historical traces can confront relatives and offspring with special dilemmas and awkward decisions. Are these photographs and home movies precious fragments of a family narrative, worth passing on to posterity? Or are they, in their eternal return of the same – same occasions, same locations, same protagonists and pretexts – mere collections of clichés, nostalgic evocations of moments forever past, best buried with those whose likeness they bear?
The subject of my lecture are family photos and home movies, read as symptoms of an anti-history within History (with a capital H), paying attention to the gaps between what can be seen and what is not shown, which is in competition with the (self-)evidence of the cinematic presence and vivid life, preserved in the images, the glances and gestures. The place: Berlin; the time: the years 1938-1944, the purpose: how to fashion from such material a documentary film that an audience might find meaningful.
Thomas Elsaesser is Professor Emeritus at the Department of Media and Culture of the University of Amsterdam. From 2006 to 2012 he was Visiting Professor at Yale University, and now teaches part-time at Columbia University, New York. He has authored, edited and co-edited some 20 volumes on film history, film theory, German and European cinema, Hollywood, New Media and Installation Art. His books have been translated into German, Dutch, French, Italian, Polish, Hungarian, Hebrew, Korean and Chinese.
Among his recent books as author are: Terror und Trauma (Berlin: Kadmos, 2007); Film Theory: An Introduction through the Senses (New York: Routledge, 2010, with Malte Hagener) and The Persistence of Hollywood (New York: Routledge, 2012). Forthcoming: German Cinema: From Mastering the Past to Guilt Management in the Present (New York: Routledge, 2013).
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