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Meet the Writers: Susan Wloszczyna

Editor's note: To give you a chance to get to know our writers better, we've asked them to respond to some questions. In coming weeks, we'll be posting their responses, which will always be available as a link from their contributor biography page. Here's Susan Wloszczyna.

The Movie Love Questionnaire

Where did you grow up, and what was it like?

I was born in Buffalo, NY, but was soon uprooted and dragged kicking and screaming to a tree-less, desolate place where you couldn’t buy penny candy at the corner. Otherwise, known as the suburbs or, more specifically, the Town of Tonawanda. Yes, it was cold and sometimes miserable in the winter. But the natives are warm, the bars stay open to the wee hours and the summers quite pleasant. 

Was anyone else in your family into movies? If so, what effect did they have on your moviegoing tastes?

My parents’ whole dating routine revolved around movies before they were married and my Dad especially was a fan. We were both saps for a good cry and one of my first memories of watching a movie on TV with him is both of us weeping uncontrollably over Shirley Temple’s grandfather trying to find her in the snow in Heidi. As I grew older, "Going My Way" was the tear inducer of choice. We also liked a good laugh, and Abbott and Costello, the Dead End Kids, Danny Kaye and the Three Stooges delivered the goods. 

What's the first movie you remember seeing, and what impression did it make on you?

"Sleeping Beauty." For some reason, those thorns that grew on the rose bushes to block the prince as he tried to rescue her really unnerved me. I grew up loving animation as an art form and it remains one of my favorite subjects to cover and write about.

What's the first movie that made you think, "Hey, some people made this. It didn't just exist. There's a human personality behind it"?

"Spartacus" with Kirk Douglas in Cinerama. I never saw a man’s naked chest that was so broad. And that cavernous chin dimple. I couldn’t fathom how he and my father could be the same species. The whole scope of the film just impressed and the passion that was on display. And those flaming logs were amazing.

UPDATE: Mike “Movie Mike” Clark, who was the senior film critic to my Jimmy Olsen-eager cub reviewer at USA TODAY for 12 years, was kind enough to point out in his own inimitable encyclopedic way that Spartacus, though shown in 70mm wide-screen, was not in Cinerama. He also was chagrined I did not mention his invaluable presence in my life, but now this takes care of that, too.

What's the first movie you ever walked out of?

"The Night Porter." I usually can tolerate kink and naughty behavior—and Charlotte Rampling and Dirk Bogarde made for a potent pair—but I did not have the stomach to continue watching them degrade each other onscreen that day.

What's the funniest film you've ever seen?

When I was 8, "It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World." When I was 10—and knew a little bit more about sex—"Some Like It Hot." When I was 16, "Duck Soup."  "Animal House" in college. As an old person, "Young Frankenstein."

What's the saddest film you've ever seen?

"The House of Sand and Fog." I still suffer depression from the scene with the dry cleaning bag.

What's the scariest film you've ever seen?

"Night of the Living Dead." Saw it at a drive-in with a friend when I was 16. I had never seen anything like it before. What made it worse is that people started walking around like zombies and tapping on car windows. I had my friend go upstairs with me with I got home to make sure my parents weren’t eaten. It has had a permanent effect on my psyche, so much so that I was a zombie extra in George Romero’s "Land of the Dead."

What's the most romantic film you've ever seen?

"Romeo and Juliet" with Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey. At least my junior high self thought so.

What's the first television show you ever saw that made you think television could be more than entertainment?

"The Monkees," since it made me spend my money on records, magazines and concerts.

What book do you think about or revisit the most? 

Charlotte’s Web or Jane Eyre.

What album or recording artist have you listened to the most, and why? 

"Who’s Next" by The Who. I just adored the band for their anarchy, sense of humor, their grandiose ambitions in creating a rock opera and Keith Moon. Especially Keith Moon.

Is there a movie that you think is great, or powerful, or perfect, but that you never especially want to see again, and why? 

"Schindler’s List" and now "12 Years a Slave." These are movies that make you hold your breath for two hours and then you weep. Also "Eraserhead." The ambient noise gets so under my skin.

What movie have you seen more times than any other?

"Flashdance." Yes, "Flashdance."  It was the right movie at the right time, fulfilling some sort of twisted female fantasy for me. I worship Cynthia Rhodes and thought Jennifer Beals was the most talented performer on Earth until I went back the second week and realize there was an army of stunt doubles doing the difficult stuff. I even told director Adrian Lyne that I had seen it at least 40 times and he said he felt sorry for me.

What was your first R-rated movie, and did you like it?

I spent an inordinate amount of time at age 14 or so plotting to get into R films. When we finally succeeded, it was 1970 student-protest comedy "Getting Straight" with Elliot Gould. The main reason for the R was female nudity. I thought, “Heck, I can see that in the mirror for free.”

What's the most visually beautiful film you've ever seen?

"Barry Lyndon" was beautiful with its natural lighting but boring. "Lawrence of Arabia" on the big screen is quite something.

Who are your favorite leading men, past and present?

Jack Lemmon, Peter O’Toole, Paul Newman, Sidney Poitier, Alan Bates, Terence Stamp, Clive Owen, Albert BrooksPaul Giamatti, Jack Nicholson, Matthew McConaughey (circa now).

Who are your favorite leading ladies, past and present?

Shirley Temple, Hayley Mills, Bette Davis, Judy Holliday, Audrey Hepburn, Sandy Dennis, Julie Andrews, Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep, Maggie Smith, Viola Davis.

Who's your favorite modern filmmaker?

Alexander Payne.

Who's your least favorite modern filmmaker?

Michael Bay

What film do you love that most people seem to hate?

"The Greatest Show on Earth," long derided as one of the worst best-picture Oscar winners ever.  Over the top and under the Big Top is fine with me.

What film do you hate that most people love?

"The Outlaw Josey Wales," mainly because my husband insists on watching it every single time it is on, which feels like almost every day.

Tell me about a moviegoing experience you will never forget—not just because of the movie, but because of the circumstances in which you saw it.

Before we were married, I convinced my husband to go to a Visconti double bill of "The Damned" and "Death in Venice." Little did I realize we would be endangering our health by seeing it at the Allendale Theater in Buffalo, a 1913 structure that was in dire need of heat, vermin control and general decontamination. By the time the two films were over, he had developed a cough that sounded as if he had black lung and I swear I had pink eye. Oh, somehow, we did enjoy the films.

What aspect of modern theatrical moviegoing do you like least?

The commercials and wimpy ushers who only seem to adjust the temperature instead of maintaining decorum.

What aspect of moviegoing during your childhood do you miss the most?

The way they make it into a special experience, the equal of going to a live stage production. Movies like "My Fair Lady" and "The Sound of Music" wouldn’t be yanked after a couple weeks. The theater—which were palaces left over from the vaudeville era—would place permanent marquees out front for the entire run. There were special books you could buy about the movie and the concession stands served tie-in snacks—I remember drinking a "My Fair Lady" pink lemonade.

Have you ever damaged a friendship, or thought twice about a relationship, because you disagreed about whether a movie was good or bad?

Not really. I am careful not to take anyone with me to a film I am pretty sure they won’t like. There is nothing worse than trying to enjoy a movie while worrying about the person next to you twitching in their seat, sighing, and checking their watch.

What movies have you dreamed about?

"The Birds." And that was only after my older cousin told me the whole plot and described the gross parts in detail. When I finally saw it, it was even scarier than I imagined.

What concession stand item can you not live without?

Popcorn. Small bag. No butter.

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