Lotte H. Eisner
: Writer, collector and archivist

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This project is a reassessment of the career of Lotte H. Eisner, the exiled German French film historian, collector and archivist whose life and work spanned the breadth of the 20th century, but whose legacy in film scholarship is at times opaque. Although Eisner’s writing on Weimar film has assured her a place in European film history, the historiography reveals an uneven account of her career, exposing erratic intellectual engagement by film scholars and a downplaying of her thirty year archiving and collecting career at the Cinémathèque Française. On the one hand Eisner is venerated as an eyewitness of the so-called ‘golden age’ of 1920s German film; at the same time, she remains a shadowy figure in film archive historiography. My comprehensive reconsideration of her work demonstrates that an understanding of Eisner’s archival work at the Cinémathèque is fundamental to an appreciation of Eisner’s substantial contribution to film history, film archive history and post-war film culture. The thesis focusses primarily on Eisner’s post-war career: the period beginning in 1945 when she returned to Paris and to the nascent Cinémathèque Française after the horrors of the war years, during which she was incarcerated and then lived in hiding, in fear for her life, under a false identity in southern France. By 1945, Eisner had been living precariously in exile for twelve years. The Cinémathèque provided security of employment and a sympathetic and cosmopolitan milieu. Beginning work there, the thesis argues, was a defining moment for Eisner and, despite the horrifying events of the Shoah, gave her the impetus and confidence to restart her working life, now as a collector, curator and archivist as well as a writer. Eisner’s letters, documents and administrative papers form the foundation of my research. Many of them are scattered across the world in archives such as the Cinémathèque Française in Paris, the Deutsche Kinemathek in Berlin as well as in her personal papers, which I catalogued at the start of this project. Although barely mentioned in film archive histories, Eisner amassed a vast quantity of film and cinema artefacts, of which the highlight was the acquisition of Weimar production and set designs. This formative work involved reconnecting and rejuvenating the pre-war networks of Weimar set and production designers as she built up the archive with acquisitions of their work which she then curated and featured in the Cinémathèque’s many exhibitions that toured the globe. The thesis shows how that collecting and curating history became the foundation of a freelance writing career, in which Eisner wrote her first book on Weimar silent film, published in France in 1952 as L’Ecran démoniaque (The Haunted Screen)—which was re-published and extended in 1965 and then published in English as The Haunted Screen in 1969; and later, how it underpinned a monograph of film director, F.W. Murnau, which won the Armand Tallier prize in 1965, as well as her final book, a study of the films of her great friend, Fritz Lang, published in 1976.

Date of Award1 Jul 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorErica Carter (Supervisor)

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