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USC Professor Anne Friedberg Loved Windows

by Anne Thompson
October 13, 2009 3:56 AM
18 Comments
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Thompson on Hollywood

It's always tough to say good-bye to a friend who dies too young. After a lingering fight against colorectal cancer, Anne Friedberg died October 9 at age 57.

We met in grad school at NYU Cinema Studies. Always an angularly stylish, brainy beauty, for years Anne wore black, but as she got older, she also embraced red.

While I fled from academia, she continued to forge a remarkable career. During a time when film studies moved from being semi-respectable to a serious academic pursuit, Anne helped to define that change. She was fascinated by the concept of the window as a frame, a proscenium, a view into another world. She wrote two books on the subject: Window Shopping: Cinema and the Postmodern (1993) and The Virtual Window: From Alberti to Microsoft (2006), a cultural history of the metaphoric, literal, and virtual window. (Check out its cool interactive website, designed by Erik Loyer.) Anne gave this speech to the critical studies graduating class in 2008. A Getty scholar, she was this year's recipient of the AMPAS Academy Scholar Award.

Thompson on Hollywood

After earning her doctorate at NYU, Anne moved west, married screenwriter Howard Rodman (at one of my favorite weddings, at Wattles Mansion) and taught for a time at the University of California at Irvine, where she created a new interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in Visual Studies before joining the department of Critical Studies at USC's School of Cinematic Arts in 2003. She became chair in 2006.

Thompson on Hollywood

Anne and Howard were a power couple at USC: he heads up the screenwriting department. Their son Tristan is a junior at Oakwood School, where Wendy Dozoretz, long Anne's close friend from NYU, teaches film. I loved listening to Anne and Wendy talk shop. Anne brought me into USC to teach a film criticism survey that had been taught by New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis. A tough act to follow, but Anne encouraged me to take up a satisfying challenge. (I'll never be in her league.)

The USC site has posted a lovely memorial. “Anne was one of those rare individuals, who with her remarkable intellect, could integrate past, present and future,” says USC's dean Elizabeth M. Daley. “She was always challenging her colleagues and students to move forward and embrace change and innovation with courage and integrity. Both her colleagues and her students were inspired by her intellectual curiosity and her rigorous scholarship. It is hard to comprehend the depth of her loss both to USC and the field at large."

Adds magician/writer Ricky Jay: “Anne Friedberg combined the work of an interdisciplinary scholar with the eye of an artist. Not only did see she with originality and insight, but almost more importantly compelled us to see our own material in fresh and unconventional ways.”

Variety's obit frames Anne's considerable accomplishments. She leaves behind not only bereaved friends and family, but generations of film students who will always, thanks to her, view the world through a different window.

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More: Stuck In Love, Obit, Critics

18 Comments

  • Berenice Reynaud | October 17, 2009 5:18 AMReply

    Thank you, Anne T., for this lovely tribute. I just heard the sad news, and I am devastated. It is somewhat comforting to read these posts -- some by people I know -- that are the best evidence of how much people loved Anne, and how she had positively touched the lives of so many. She was an exceptional, brilliant, luminous human being. My thoughts are now with Howard and Tristan. I wish I could share their pain. I hope they can find comfort too in these notes of sympathy. Somebody like Anne who is remembered and loved by so many people never completely leave this earth. Her work, her memory, will be with us forever.

  • Joseph Helguera | October 16, 2009 5:07 AMReply

    Went to college (Beloit) with her way back a long time ago. Anne was witty, stylish, beautiful and funny, a charming and insightful conversationalist. My condolences to her family and friends.

  • Jeanne Hibbard | October 15, 2009 1:37 AMReply

    Like Pauline, Anne & I were first cousins. Our fathers were brothers. Uncle Art was the third of four Friedberg boys, all greatly missed by the families they formed. I remember Anne as a young child and woman. Unfortunately I had not seen here since she moved to California in 1985, but kept in touch through Richard and our Aunts. I, too, have fond memories of Champaign and Columbus visits at the Friedberg home.
    My love and condolences to Howard, Tristan, Richard and family.
    Anne you will be remembered always. Aunt Sally was so proud of you.

  • William Boddy | October 15, 2009 1:30 AMReply

    Thank you for your lovely piece, Anne. I'm deeply moved by all the comments from Anne's students and from old friends from NYU days. Anne has been a constant emotional and intellectual presence in my life since we started graduate school in 1975 and I'm angry she's not here and humbled and grateful for all she has given us.

  • Susan Morgan | October 14, 2009 8:35 AMReply

    how stunned and heart sick I am to learn of Anne's death. her intellect, wit, and style constantly soared and surprised me. Incomparable.
    Arlene's wonderful "woof!" reminded me of Anne's enthusiasm for Princeton University Press: how could she resist a publisher with the initials PUP?

  • Larry Gross | October 14, 2009 8:22 AMReply

    AT-
    Thanks for doing this beautiful post about Anne Friedberg. People of her rigorous intelligence, beauty and passion are always in hideously short supply but somehow, this week we all are feeling paricularly diminished and bereft on account of this loss. Having met Anne as you and Wendy did at NYU Cinema Studies Graduate School, now-what- 34 years ago, I wholeheartedly agree with something Wendy says above--there was very little point in going on with graduate study in that discipline in that department ,when you knew Anne Friedberg was so far ahead in terms of mastering and making the most interesting and complete use of that body of knowledge. Anne was one of those rare scholars whose style of presenting her ideas was so incisive and supple that she could make genuine erudition, entertaining and even cool. Just an extraordinary spirit, and irreplaceable.

  • Pauline Sinnamon | October 14, 2009 6:08 AMReply

    Anne was my first cousin; our mothers were sisters. All of your tributes are so moving! Anne was quite an accomplished professional. Her father, Arthur Friedberg, was also a professor, and Anne clearly took after him in her love for learning and in her genuine love of life. He played the piano and sang; we all remember the joy of visiting with Anne's family.

    Her mother, Marian Friedberg, was a generous and wise lady whose cooking skills made our visits to Champaign, Illinois, most special.

    My sincerest condolences to her husband, to her son and to her brother, Richard Friedberg.

  • Chuck Tryon | October 14, 2009 1:09 AMReply

    Anne's book Window Shopping was a huge influence on me as a graduate student at Purdue. In fact, I stumbled for many months trying to say anything new about cinema and time after reading and processing her book. I only met her once or twice at conferences but found her to be a generous, warm person, and I saddened to hear that she has passed away. Thanks, Anne, for this lovely tribute.

  • Jeremy Parzen | October 14, 2009 1:08 AMReply

    I only met Anne once, about a year ago. We tasted a Slovenian Pinot Grigio together in her home with Howard. She was a lovely lady and I'm sorry I didn't get to spend more time together. This post and tributes are a window on to her life and I am glad for that. Howard and Tristan are in our thoughts and our hearts.

  • Chris Dorr | October 13, 2009 12:08 PMReply

    Anne--This is a very moving tribute, many thanks for sharing with all of us.

  • Elaine Sperber | October 13, 2009 9:32 AMReply

    What a lovely tribute. Thank you so much for writing it.

  • Claire Joseph | October 13, 2009 8:10 AMReply

    Dear Shawn Levy,

    I bet the poodle that Anne knew of your gratitude.

  • michael donaldson | October 13, 2009 6:31 AMReply

    Anne Friedberg is a force who will be with us for some time through her books, her words, and her powerful presence in every room she entered.

  • Lisa Saffian | October 13, 2009 6:20 AMReply

    Anne Friedberg was one of my professors at UC Irvine in the late 80s - early 90s. Film Studies was a small major then - small in terms of the number of students who were in the program, not how we felt about what we were studying or the professors who taught us.

    Professor Friedberg was an imposing figure. She was effortlessly cool, bringing her NYC fashion sense to an Orange County campus. She could be intimidating, she was so fluid in her knowledge of film - both dominant Hollywood cinema and the most independent of filmmakers - we all wanted to impress her with how much we had been able to learn under her tutelage. (We also wanted to be as impressive as she was - fashionably and academically.)

    Seeing her obituary in today's Variety sparked a flurry of emails and phone calls among those of us who had once been her students. (There was a similar round when we read of her AMPAS Scholar award a few months back.) We are shocked and saddened by her passing; she left an indelible impression on all of us, and will not be forgotten by any of us.

  • Claire Joseph | October 13, 2009 5:11 AMReply

    Anne was also a professor of clothing. She always commented on how I looked (I dressed up for her) and wanted to know where things came from or how they were made. She even designed and made some very beautiful scarves.

    She was remarkably more than stylish, and re-defined glamour to include the female brain - that is her fashion legacy. Being an historian, she reminded us that clothing once signify that you were a part of the intelligencia, and that we can all express ourselves more clearly through what we wear. Even though she always made an intense impression, her delicate femininity never gave way to the "power suit" look.

    Anne actually wore a full spectrum of colors that all looked like black. She had a fascination with the pleat. Her top favorite designers in order, Romeo Gigli, Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto, Martin Margiella.

    Thank you AT for setting up this blog spot for us.

  • Wendy Dozoretz | October 13, 2009 4:20 AMReply

    Thank you, Anne, for writing such a loving tribute to our dear friend Anne. Like you, I fled academia because, in part, I knew I could never reach the brilliance and depth of a true intellectual like Anne. And so beautiful and stylish and kind! Even during her final days, she inevitably remembered to ask how I was doing and noted a new haircut or earrings. She was unique and remarkable -- an extraordinary mother, wife and friend. Woof!

  • Shawn Levy | October 13, 2009 3:43 AMReply

    This is shattering news. I was a friend and TA for Anne at Irvine in the mid-'80s and have always adored her and Howard. Anne steered me toward writing about film as a profession, albeit with the wise caveat that there was no money in it. I am stunned and heartsick. Thank you, AT, for sharing this

  • Arlene Zeichner | October 13, 2009 2:04 AMReply

    Lovely. A few additional points:
    1. she was an amazing cook. she made this vegetable soup with parmesan cheese rind that, no matter how hard i tried, i could not duplicate. i asked her the secret and she said the just followed the Hazan recipe. i said that i did too and my soup wasn't half as good as hers. Funny, she said, that's what a lot of people have told me.
    2. besides leaving the girls in black club for red, she was known to wear, shockingly, some electric green.
    3. as you know, she was the queen of poodles, so this shout out to anne must conclude with one of her favorite expressions, woof!

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