Are You There, S.F.? It's Judy Blume at the Jewish Film Fest!
Author Judy Blume, who has sold more than 82 million books worldwide, writes about curious, adventurous, and imaginative girls who don't see sex as something taboo or wrong. This got Blume's books banned from many library shelves, but it didn't stop her from being immensely popular. Blume's all over pop culture -- the subject of Saturday Night Live skits, mentions on South Park and The Simpsons, and even an answer on Jeopardy.
For the first time, one of Blume's books, Tiger Eyes, has been made into a movie. She wrote the screenplay with her son, Lawrence Blume, who also directed the movie, based on the 1981 book about a teenage girl, Davey, played by Willa Holland from Gossip Girl) who moves to Los Alamos, New Mexico with her shattered mother and little brother to live with relatives after her father is killed in a robbery in New Jersey. Hiking in the canyons, she meets a Native American named Wolf (Tatanka Means), who helps her deal with her loss.
Blume talked to a swooning SF Weekly about making a movie with her son, the longevity of her books, and the pamphlet campaign to get her books banned.
Why is Tiger Eyes the first book you've made into a movie?
Lawrence would tell you he always wanted to do this when he was young and heading off to college; he always knew he wanted to do this one as a film. It speaks to him personally because he was young when he got out to New Mexico, and he had an understanding for it because he grew up there. It's cinematic with the physical beauty. I've always felt that in this book it's a character as well as Davey and Wolf. Like in Summer Sisters, I feel Martha's Vineyard is a character. It's not just a setting. I learned long ago to not set books in places I didn't know really, really well because it can become so important. Could a story of a girl mourning her father take place somewhere else? Of course.
Do you feel that this book was different than your other books because it was in New Mexico and it deals with a death?
I don't remember feeling that way when I wrote it. When I saw the movie it hit me in a new way that I was probably -- and how could I not have known this? -- writing about the loss of my own father. The pain of losing the person you love most, the person you can depend on, the person who's always been there for you. I experienced that when I was 21, not 15, but that sudden loss, so unexpected, out of the blue, that changes your whole life and your whole way of seeing life.
Was it difficult looking for actors to play characters you'd written about?
We had very little time for casting. We had about a day and half in L.A. and the same in New Mexico. I think we were incredibly lucky, not just with Davey, but with the incredible little boy who plays Jason, Lucien Dale. That to me was the scariest role to cast because there weren't a lot of children to choose from in New Mexico. He was just a natural. I thought, I will not have cutesy children in my movies, ever, and that's asking a lot, but he wasn't. And Willa just got better every day. She embodied Davey. She was so good the way she hugged herself, always protecting herself, when she's first in the canyon with Wolf.
Larry would tell you we went to the same casting agent who did Winter's Bone. In order to find that young woman, they saw hundreds and hundreds of young female actors, so they had the list ready. We were lucky -- we probably saw a couple hundred by video. Then when we went there, we had it narrowed to the top 25 or something. Larry always knew Willa was the one. When she came in, she dazzled us. I don't think I had any idea how luminous she would be on screen. We saw the dailies and I was just, "Oh my God, this is incredible." She had no vanity about her whatsoever.
What was it like working with your son?
The time in New Mexico was fabulous. It was very collaborative. We're not mom and son when we working like that. We're Judy and Larry. We've worked together before. Writing a screenplay together -- that was much harder for me because I'm not used to writing with anyone. But I feel he knows film structure better than I do and so, there were no fights, let's put it that way.
Were you consciously trying to write books that were honest about puberty when you started?
I didn't have a clue what I was doing. I was young. I was inexperienced, and I had two babies. I was in my 20s. I guess I was always a natural storyteller, but it certainly wasn't conscious. I was a reader, but when I was growing up, I didn't find myself in the books I was reading. I didn't find a family like the one I came from or the kinds of families I knew. I didn't find kids thinking about the things I was thinking about, so maybe there was some of that.
What are you most proud of?
That the books have -- I never dreamed this -- touched so many lives in generation after generation. I remember being asked by a reporter a long time ago, "Will your books be around in 20 years?" I can remember thinking, "20 years? Who cares? That's so far away." And now it's 40 years. This is unbelievable. It's wonderful.
You've been involved in fighting against censorship. How did it feel when people tried to censor your books?
I thought, "What am I writing here? Is puberty a dirty subject?" Everyone is going to go through puberty whether their parents want them to or not. I was completely baffled by it. Then it became a real effort by some groups to ban the books. There was a pamphlet, "How to rid your libraries of Judy Blume books." That was shocking. I saw it. My secretary sent away for it. The most interesting and shocking thing was you didn't have to read the book, you just had to say the following or quote the following, just go to the following pages. It was so out of context. It was so crazy, and what was it based on, anyway? Some kind of fear.... People would write me and say, "You told my child about this before I was ready." I used to write back and say, "What were you waiting for?" You've got to talk to them not just once, but all the time. It's hard at first, but you can get used to doing that. You arm yourself with good information, and then you don't have to be so afraid.Tiger Eyes screens at 3:55 on July 22 at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro (at Market), S.F. Admission is $11-$12.