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.
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.
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.