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Susan Stark, longtime Detroit film critic, dies at 80

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Susan Stark, a longtime Detroit film critic who “loved being between artists and the average person in this world,” died Friday next to her daughters in a New York hospital. She was 80 years old.

Ms. Stark died of cancer a week after checking into a New York hospital. She was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer 20 years ago and had a clean health certificate until recently, her friends and family said.

“She hadn’t felt well since the first year,” said longtime friend Judy Diebolt. “She was always active, a hiker who loved yoga, but after checking into the hospital last Friday they found a lot of tumors.”

Ms. Stark was born on July 9, 1940 in New York City. She is the daughter of Albert A. and Lillian Rothenberg.

Ms. Stark is a graduate of Smith College and studied English and literature at Harvard University.

In March 1968, Ms. Stark moved from New York to Detroit to marry the late Detroit News columnist and editor, Al Stark, who suggested that she write for the newspaper. But at the time, The News was not hiring. But Mort Persky, the editor of the Detroit Free Press, was.

She and Mr. Stark had two daughters that they raised in Detroit, Allana and Paula-Rose.

“I loved going to the movies with her,” said Paula-Rose, 46. “She was the local celebrity. People always wanted to catch her outside of the movie and they gave her their own review. I think she did like.” She loved being in this world between the artist and the average person. She also liked to understand the people who read the paper. “

Susan Stark died on Friday March 12th, 2020.

Ms. Stark was a film critic for the Free Press for 11 years before joining The News in August 1968.

After 34 years and a conservative estimate of 6,800 film reviews, she retired from The News in December 2002.

In her farewell column, Ms. Stark said she remembered when the newspaper opposed X-rated images, no ads, and no reviews.

Her first review for the Detroit Free Press was in August 1968, “A visually stunning Swedish import ‘Elvira Madigan’,” she wrote.

She started as a year professional reviewer of The Graduate and I Am Curious (Yellow), a C-minus porn film from Sweden, and said it put her on a course I couldn’t possibly have imagined. She wrote.

In her last reviews she gave positive advice to “Elvira Madigan” and the film version of “Chicago”.

“As a critic, I come to the cinema with no fixed expectations,” wrote Ms. Stark. “I allow any film to tell me what kind of response it is trying to evoke, and then I judge it based on the goals it makes clear. So over the years my reviews of quality films have praised them for the way they are how they accomplish their mission: to intrigue, amuse, instruct, purify, horrify, whatever. “

Ms. Stark valued films that humanized the viewer. She extolled actress Meryl Streep, saying, “From my seat, Streep is not only the greatest film actor of our time, but also the most sensible person involved in film acting that I have ever interviewed. I tell you that both aspects of your size have nothing to do with each other. “

As a tribute to her younger daughter and grandmother named Rose, she used roses to rate films, with four roses ranking highest.

“I would give her four large roses,” said Paula-Rose Stark.

Ms. Stark loved traveling until the lockdown, said her daughter Allana Stark.

“I’m actually sitting in her New York apartment and looking at a wall full of paintings and art that she has been collecting on her travels since she was 16,” said Allana Stark, 49. “She was a very talented watercolourist and painted a lot During her retirement, she was the mother of several cats and a stepmother to my father’s four children from his previous marriage. “

Ms. Stark did not want a memorial or memorial service, said her daughters. In honor of her memory, donations can be made to breast cancer research charities or to the ASPCA.

Diebolt, a longtime friend and newspaper colleague of Stark for nearly 50 years, said she died just before cocktail hour, a time they often shared over a long distance phone call and a drink of their choice.

“We met when I was a reporter at Freep and she was the new film critic in the 1970s. She made the jump to The News first and I joined after that,” said Diebolt. “She loved Belle Isle, Eastern Market, and had a very good mind. She spoke perfect French and Italian. I remember in her fifties she was translating Dante’s Inferno from the Italian original for fun.”

In the old days, Diebolt says, newspapers were a big deal, and Ms. Stark was sent from New York to Paris for a story.

“It was a marquee name,” said Diebolt. “At the time, they were a lot of people and had billboards with their faces saying, ‘Sit in the dark with Susan Stark.’ “”

Marty Fischhoff, a former Detroit News deputy editor-in-chief who worked with Ms. Stark, said she had a reputation for being dull but had a warm side.

“She was thoughtful, smart, a good writer, extremely organized, and an old-school beat reporter,” Fischhoff told The News. “She was the queen of the roof when I walked in. She owned the beat and became the standard in town. I remember her passion for animated films and children’s books. That always showed the sweet side of her.”

Tom Long, who followed Stark as a film critic for the news after Stark resigned in December 2002, said she was one of the “seminal film critics”.

“Susan was a stylist,” said Long. “She had a very strong writing style that was her own voice and was hyper-intelligent. There’s no way around it. She was very clever. “

Stark never got bored or burned out at work, Long said. “We used to do Oscar stuff in the office, and I remember when ‘The English Patient’ won Best Picture, she was literally dancing around,” he said. “After many, many years, she was still very excited about certain directors and certain films.

“It was an institution. She thought it was an art, she thought it was very important. It felt like film was more than just pop culture for Susan. “

Weekly film critic Mara Reinstein recalls reading Stark as a child in Farmington Hills.

“I grew up with Susan Stark,” said Reinstein, who remembered performing with JP McCarthy on WJR-AM (760) on Friday morning.

In 1993 Reinstein won a news sponsored contest as a teenage film critic, and she met Stark, who sat down with her and a small group of winners and taught them tricks of the trade. “I thought it was the best thing I’ve ever done. Susan Stark is talking to me? This is the greatest thing that has ever existed. “

Reinstein said Stark taught her the basic rule of film criticism: never get involved in the criticism. “She said never to use the word ‘me’ in a review,” she says. If she breaks that rule today, “I still think of Susan Stark,” she said.

In the summer of 2002, while writing for Teen People, Reinstein recalls seeing Stark at a press screening of Austin Powers in Goldmember in New York. “Just the fact that I made it to the same screening as Susan Stark was like, ahhhhhhhhhhhhh!” Said Reinstein.

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Dusty Kennedy