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Barbara Ottmann

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PhD Thesis "The Lubitsch Touch: A Meta-Critical Study, 1923-1947"

Supervised by Dr Alastair Phillips and Dr Jon Burrows

My recently completed thesis explores the history of the ‘Lubitsch touch,’ the supposed signature style associated with Ernst Lubitsch (1892-1947) and his films. It is a truth universally acknowledged that the ‘touch’ exists, but there is decidedly less agreement on what the ‘touch’ actually is. Relying upon a large variety of material comprised of historical newspaper reviews, interviews, posters, press books and trailers, I examined how the ‘touch’ was first introduced and defined during the years of Lubitsch’s career.

The central question of my project is not what the ‘Lubitsch touch’ actually is, but rather how such a significant director—one whose style has acquired its own (almost technical) term—could occupy such a precarious position within film culture. What mechanisms are at work in the writing of (film) history and how do historiography and criticism contribute to and even shape our perception of historical figures such as Ernst Lubitsch and his ‘touch’?

My research project was jointly funded through an AHRC Doctoral Award and a Warwick Postgraduate Research Scholarship (WPRS). In 2013, the AHRC International Placement Scheme allowed me to undertake extensive research at the Library of Congress as a Kluge fellow, followed by a trip to Margaret Herrick Library in Los Angeles.


I hold a Magister degree in English Literature with Comparative Literary Studies and American Cultural History from Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich. Before starting my PhD at the University of Warwick in October 2011, I also completed the MA in Film and Television Studies (with distinction) at the department.

My research interests include the intersections between history and myth, the construction of national identity, the politics of genre in general and the romantic comedy in particular, film trailers and the diverging effects of dubbing and subtitling.

Other Work

I have led undergraduate seminars on Hollywood Cinema and Discovering Cinema. In November 2014, I brought Lubitsch to a wider audience at a highly popular study day on the romantic comedy held at the Cinema Museum in London. Last summer I was part of the organising team to set up the inaugural Millburn Symposium, which seeks to promote a collaborative post-graduate research culture between the departments based at Millburn House, Film and Television, Theatre and Performance and History of Art.

Throughout my PhD I chaired the PG Student-Staff Liaison Committee at the department. I have also been serving the Arts more informally, working at Warwick Arts Centre, and have represented the University as Warwick Welcome Ambassador and PGR Ambassador.


Please get in touch via b dot v dot ottmann at gmail dot com.

b dot v dot ottmann at gmail dot com

Ernst Lubitsch