Anne Friedberg, Innovative Scholarship, and Close Up (1927-1933)
I feel deeply grateful and honored that Lantern, the search and visualization platform for the Media History Digital Library that I designed and produced, will receive the Anne Friedberg Innovative Scholarship Award at the 2014 Society for Cinema & Media Studies Conference (SCMS) in Seattle.
All awards are nice, but this one means a lot to me personally. It means a lot because Lantern was the result of two years of hard work with an amazing team of collaborators, including David Pierce, Carl Hagenmaier, Wendy Hagenmaier, Andy Myers, Joseph Pomp, Derek Long, Anthony Tran, Kit Hughes, and Pete Sengstock. We put up the site with the hope that others would find it valuable. The SCMS Awards Committee has given us something incredibly valuable in return — validation from the field and a stamp of “post peer review.”
As a pre-tenure University professor, the distinction of this award is especially meaningful. The Friedberg Award has gone to a book every year since its inception in 2011. By granting the award to Lantern, SCMS is telling my tenure committee that it needs to seriously consider the scholarly contribution of my digital work. Beyond simply helping my own career, I think the award holds the potential of advancing the field of Film & Media Studies as a whole. I hope it inspires graduate students and other scholars to undertake ambitious digital projects.
More than any other reason, though, this recognition means a lot because of Anne Friedberg.
I was fortunate to have known Anne Friedberg, though it was for far too brief of a time. When I began my PhD studies at the University of Southern California (USC), Friedberg was the Chair of the Division of Critical Studies in the USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. The phrase “visionary leader” should not be tossed around lightly, but it perfectly described Anne. She had a dynamic energy that inspired everyone in the department, including me. She had a clear vision for where she wanted the department and entire field to go — toward an inclusive yet rigorous study of media and the moving image across different forms, cultures, and historical periods. Yet like most great leaders, she was also a great listener. She took the concerns of graduate students and faculty members seriously when it came time to make decisions and set an agenda. Her illness and death from cancer in 2009 was a devastating loss for the department and SCMS (an organization she was preparing to lead as the President Elect).
Intertwined with Anne Friedberg the visionary leader, there was Anne Friedberg the intellectual, scholar, and writer. Anne’s curiosity was boundless. She is best remembered for two books, Window Shopping: Cinema and the Postmodern (1993) and The Virtual Window: From Alberti to Microsoft (2006), and her contributions to the study of film theory, film and modernity, and visual culture. But she could speak intelligently about anything with a connection to media. I came to USC’s PhD program after a three year stint of working in the Los Angeles film industry. It was a delight, therefore, to discover that that my department’s chair — a woman with a reputation as being a “theory person” — had a deep knowledge of the contemporary entertainment industry. We talked in depth about the WGA strike and challenges involving compensation and the definition of what constitutes “new media.” Anne’s knowledge of the contemporary industry came in large part from her partner, who was a professional screenwriter, but her analysis of the industry was entirely her own. She was capable of seeing the big picture, dissecting it, and finding the connections between “theory” and “industry” that the rest of us had missed.
Anne Friedberg was also a believer in a digital scholarship. She collaborated with Erik Loyer on developing The Virtual Window Interactive, a web-based experience that extends the argument of her book, The Virtual Window, by playfully inviting users to juxtapose content, viewing windows, and spectator positions (I’m especially fond of viewing the 1902 film The Gay Show Clerk on the flip phone as the idealized contemporary male viewer). The Virtual Window Interactive was published in Vectors, the innovative and important multimedia journal edited by two of Friedebrg’s USC colleagues, Tara McPherson and Steve Anderson. Without the examples of Friedberg’s, McPherson’s, and Anderson’s digital scholarship, I don’t think I would have ever thrown myself into working on Lantern and the Media History Digital Library in the way that I did.
I hope that Anne Friedberg would have liked Lantern’s interface. However, I know for a fact that she would have liked many of the digitized publications. Anne understood that magazines about media were simultaneously important historical documents and media objects themselves. In the late-1990s, Friedberg co-edited the anthology Close Up (1927-1933): Cinema & Modernism, which curated selections from the important film magazine Close Up with accompanying introductions and analyses by Friedberg and co-editors James Donald and Laura Marcus.
It is my great pleasure to announce that, as of today, the complete 1927-1933 run of Close Up is accessible at the MHDL and completely searchable within Lantern. You can find it on the MHDL’s homepage and Global Cinema Collection. The magazine was scanned and sponsored by the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation.
Close Up was a hybrid publication in many ways — an English-language periodical, which was published in Switzerland, bridging the art, literary, and film worlds. Edited by Bryher and her husband Kenneth Macpherson, Close Up became the magazine for energetic debates about the nature of cinema and manifestos imagining new forms of filmmaking and spectatorship. The magazine published articles by filmmakers, such as Sergei Eisenstein, and female modernist writers, such as H.D. and Gertrude Stein. As Friedberg explains, “Close Up became the model for a certain type of writing about film — writing that was theoretically astute, politically incisive, critical of films that were simply ‘entertainment.’ For six and a half years, Close Up maintained a forum for a broad variety of ideas about the cinema; it never advocated a single direction of development, but rather posed alternatives to existing modes of production, consumption, and film style.” Like Friedberg’s own books, Close Up continues to be essential reading for anyone interested in the history of film and media theory.
I strongly recommend paging through the digitized run of Close Up alongside a cup of coffee and Friedberg’s essays from the Close Up (1927-1933): Cinema & Modernism anthology. Friedberg offers a well researched historical account of the magazine’s publication. She calls our attention to Close Up’s small 5 1/2 inch by 7 3/4 inch size, the sort of material detail that it is all too easy to forget when reading Close Up’s articles in reprinted text form or online in the MHDL.
What I love most about Friedberg’s Close Up essays is that she doesn’t simply tell us about the magazine. Instead, she goes on to model how we might read Close Up and discover connections between a 1928 magazine and our contemporary media experience. One key aspect of Anne’s reading process is to seize onto some fascinating detail in the text. This detail becomes the first node in what will become an entire network, with edges or connections that bridge past and present and history and theory. In her essay “Reading Close Up,” for example, Friedberg calls our attention to the curious wording and typographical choices in the following advertisement:
Bound volumes of Close Up are collector’s books, and should be in the possession of all followers of the cinema. With much that is exclusive and unobtainable elsewhere, they will be undoubtedly of the greatest value as
REFERENCE BOOKS FOR THE FUTURE
as well for the present. The theory and analysis constitutes the most valuable cinematographic development that has yet been made.
That phrase written in all-caps — “REFERENCE BOOKS FOR THE FUTURE” — becomes the central node that Friedberg uses to build and illuminate the rest of the network. The phrase also captures Friedberg’s conviction that studying the history of media is vital if we hope to understand its present and future.
Since receiving the news about the SCMS award and revisiting Anne’s writing on Close Up, I have begun looking at all the magazines within Lantern differently. My attention has shifted away from highlighted text snippets and a linear reading of the articles. Instead, I’m finding myself fascinated and pulled toward classified ads, mastheads, and advertisement designs. I’m still reading the articles, but I am coming at them from new angles and with new questions.
I encourage others to try using Lantern and reading the magazines like Anne Friedberg too. The 2014 Anne Friedberg Innovative Scholarship Award-winner feels richer when you look at it like Anne Friedberg. Really, the whole world feels richer when you look at it like Anne Friedberg.
Anne, you are still leading us forward.