By Woody Weingarten
Robert Caro is a powerful Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer. He’s 87.
Robert Gottlieb is a powerful book editor. He’s 91.
Put ‘em together and they’ll fight with fervor over semi-colons (and, of course, much larger issues.)
Put ‘em together and they’ll work in tandem for half a century and produce Caro’s multi-book bio about Lyndon B. Johnson’s power (and desperation.)
Now the two bespectacled Bobs are featured in a new Sony Pictures documentary, Turn Every Page, directed by Gottlieb’s daughter, Lizzie. It, too, is powerful. The film starts with a close-up of the dual titans of literature poring over a manuscript; it ends with them walking down hallways in search of “real” pencils, the yellow kind with erasers at their ends.
…if you’re…interested in literature, books, writing, or editing, this doc must be on your “must see” list…
In between, Gottlieb says he knew after reading merely 15 pages of The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, the first Caro book he edited, that the bio was “going to be a masterpiece.” He notes, too, that Caro “is now working on Volume 5 of the three-volume biography” of Johnson. Caro, who takes about seven years to research and write a book, says he doesn’t “think anything was harder” than his first LBJ volume, and recalls the original million words of the Moses bio and the 350,000-word cuts necessary for the spine to carry the book’s weight.
Both admit to long-standing difficulty with the other. Says Gottlieb, “It’s not that I was trying to tear his bleeding heart out of his chest.”
The years have softened them, though. And although they don’t hang like buddies, the documentary tells of multiple Caro and Gottlieb intersections: Both are New York City Jews. Both had troubled childhoods. Both are workaholics.
And both clearly want to get everything right (and complete.)
Both are also quirky.
Caro, who was an investigative reporter for Newsweek before he turned to writing books, takes the carbon copies from his Smith Corona electric typewriter and squeezes them into a small space over his refrigerator; Gottlieb, who was editor-in-chief of Simon & Schuster, Alfred A. Knopf, and The New Yorker, collects what he calls “love objects,” hundreds of plastic women’s pocketbooks.
Turn Every Page: The Adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb isn’t, however, just talking heads of the two. It features, in addition to several clips of LBJ (emphasizing civil rights and “equal opportunity”), a slightly bedraggled Colin Farrell reading from a Caro book; an interview with Bill Clinton; and lots of flashing covers of books Gottlieb edited (Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 as well as volumes by Clinton, Toni Morrison, Salman Rushdie, Nora Ephron, and John le Carré.)
Though she emphasizes the literary collaboration, Lizzie also focuses on the personal. Her father, for example, talks about his mom making him “stand outside for an hour every day” just to get some air, because he preferred staying inside buried in books; Caro opens up about walking along the street, finding every other person holding some sort of device, and feeling “out of touch” with modern life.
Caro’s series portrays LBJ’s duality — the visionary reformer and the conniving opportunist (who was elected to the U.S. Senate by fewer than 90 votes “cast a week after the election”.) Using the technique of a novelist, he humanized him. And showed how power affects the powerless.
Absent from the documentary are the pair’s working conversations; Caro insisted the sound be turned off because “it’s kind of a private thing.”
Lizzie says the two are “in a tortoise-like race against time to finish their life’s work.” Gottlieb says he feels bad about being old because it means you’re heading “faster and faster toward not being at all.”
Before the doc ends, Gottlieb praises his friend for being “a word painter — he paints with words.”
There are numerous take-aways from Turn Every Page, many more than Caro likes semi-colons, Gottlieb doesn’t. So, if you’re the least bit interested in literature, books, writing, or editing, this doc must be on your “must see” list.
ASR Senior Contributor Woody Weingarten has decades of experience writing arts and entertainment reviews and features. A member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, he is the author of three books, The Roving I; Grampy and His Fairyzona Playmates; and Rollercoaster: How a Man Can Survive His Partner’s Breast Cancer. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or https://woodyweingarten.com or http://www.vitalitypress.com/
|Title||Turn Every Page: The Adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb|
|Directed by||Lizzie Gottlieb|
|Producing Company||Sony Pictures Classics|
|Release Date||Dec 2022|
|Runtime||1 hr 50 min|
|Showing||Lark Theater in Larkspur|
|Reviewer Score||Max in each category is 5/5|
|Aisle Seat Review PICK?||YES!|