Review: Two publishing power brokers in ‘Turn Every Page’

Dec 25, 2022, 5:41 PM | Updated: Dec 26, 2022, 8:43 am
This image released by Sony Pictures Classics shows Robert Caro, left, and Robert Gottlieb in a sce...

This image released by Sony Pictures Classics shows Robert Caro, left, and Robert Gottlieb in a scene from the documentary "Turn Every Page - The Adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb." (Claudia Raschke/Wild Surmise Productions, LLC/Sony Pictures Classics via AP)

(Claudia Raschke/Wild Surmise Productions, LLC/Sony Pictures Classics via AP)

Civil wars over semicolons and heated debate over the word “looms” would not, on the face of it, seem like the stuff of a gripping big-screen movie.

But make no mistake about it, “Turn Every Page,” about the half-century relationship between author Robert Caro and his longtime editor, Robert Gottlieb, is as much a rock ’em, sock ’em clash of heavyweights as found in any blockbuster — just one where the protagonists happen to quote from “King Lear” and Homer’s “Iliad.” The search for a sharpened pencil is about the most pressing issue at hand.

“He does the work. I do the cleanup. Then we fight,” neatly summarizes Gottlieb in the profoundly charming new documentary directed by his daughter, Lizzie Gottlieb.

Gottlieb, who has edited Toni Morrison, Charles Portis, Salman Rushdie and many others, is exaggerating, of course. “Turn Every Page” is not about foes, though it’s harder to say if it’s about friends.

Since Caro’s seminal Robert Moses history “The Power Broker,” they have been locked in a relationship of mutual dedication. Dedication to literature and history, but dedication, above all, to the details. Their journey together more or less started in 1973, when Caro dropped a million-word manuscript on Gottlieb, who knew, 15 pages in, that it was a masterpiece.

“Turn Every Page,” which opens in theaters Friday, is one of the finest films you’ll see about the craft of editing — not that there are so many of those. Gottlieb, warmly erudite, describes what he does as “a service job” of finding “what will be helpful, what will serve” the text and the writer. But it should be with a strong opinion, he says: “There has to be an equality.”

On Caro’s request, they aren’t interviewed together in “Turn Every Page,” and each even initially refused Lizzie’s interest in filming them. But as she toggles between each subject, her film leans on their similarities and parallel courses, sustaining the balance of writer-editor back-and-forth.

They are both Manhattan men of letters with considerable longevity (Caro is 87, Gottlieb 91). They are each authorities on the power centers of New York — Caro in his investigation of Moses, and Gottlieb as the former chief of Alfred A. Knopf, Simon & Schuster and The New Yorker.

And they are each driven by obsession. Caro can’t help researching every scrap of paper on Lyndon B. Johnson. (He remains at work on the fifth and final volume of “The Years of Lyndon Johnson” ). Gottlieb, a voracious reader (“It had never occurred to me to be anything except a reader,” he says) who has a hobby collecting women’s handbags, for reasons that mystify his wife, Maria Tucci.

Caro’s fifth LBJ volume is to be their last book together. The question of whether they’ll both live to see it finished, you could say, looms over “Turn Every Page,” as do past battles over the overuse of some of Caro’s favored dramatic words. Disagreements about semicolons are spoken of like Union generals recalling Antietam.

It is, undeniably, delicious stuff to listen to these war stories, just as it is sometimes chastening to hear of their battle wounds. There may be no more haunting scene in movies this year than Caro describing the pain of cutting 350,000 words — enough for two or three more books — from “The Power Broker.” You believe him, absolutely, when he says it was the hardest thing he’s ever gone through in his life, just as you grasp the immense toil behind his sprawling histories when Caro says, “Writing, for me, anyway, is hard.” That Gottlieb deeply understands and respects this struggle is surely part of his bond with Caro or any writer.

For Caro, those words have all, naturally, been pecked out on a typewriter. In one moment, he shows the running tally inside the door to his coat closet tracking how many words he managed each day. Caro, private in his work to the point of paranoid prickliness, quickly realizes some of his notes might be too revealing and closes the door. When Caro later gets out a step stool to show the cupboard above the fridge where he nightly stores his carbon ribbons, it feels almost like Kane allowing a glimpse of Rosebud.

In the film’s sweet finale, Caro and Gottlieb finally let Lizzie film them working together — with a pencil — over a manuscript. But (again by Caro’s request) she’s not allowed to record any sound of their conversation. Their interaction passes like a dance — not as dazzling, perhaps, as one of Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds’ routines, but, in its humble way, just as stirring.

“Turn Every Page,” a Sony Pictures Classics release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association for some language, brief war images and smoking. Running time: 112 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.

___

Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

The logo for OpenAI, the maker of ChatGPT, appears on a mobile phone, in New York, Tuesday, Jan. 31...
Associated Press

Cheaters beware: ChatGPT maker releases AI detection tool

ChatGPT is trying to curb its reputation as a freewheeling cheating machine with a new tool that can help detect if artificial intelligence wrote it
22 hours ago
This undated photo provided by the Grants Pass Police Department shows Benjamin Obadiah Foster. Fos...
Rio Yamat and Andrew Selsky, Associated Press

Oregon kidnap suspect previously released the day he arrived at prison

A man at the center of an intense police search in Oregon after a violent kidnapping last week was released from custody in October 2021 by Nevada prison officials on the same day he was transferred to the state's custody to serve a kidnapping sentence, authorities said Monday.
22 hours ago
Associated Press

Tuesday’s Scores

BOYS PREP BASKETBALL= Auburn Adventist Academy 57, Pacific Christian Academy 39 Bush 65, Eastside Prep 59 Clallam Bay 61, Chief Kitsap Academy 26 Colfax 70, Asotin 29 Concordia Christian 37, Rainier Christian 26 Curtis 91, Emerald Ridge 46 Darrington 37, Concrete 34 Enumclaw 72, Fife 54 Hoquiam 65, Eatonville 52 Lopez 53, Cedar Park Christian […]
22 hours ago
Associated Press

Tuesday’s Scores

GIRLS PREP BASKETBALL= Arlington 56, Shorewood 38 Bridgeport 46, Manson 39 Cle Elum/Roslyn 63, Highland 33 Colfax 70, Asotin 29 Colville 61, Newport 13 Enumclaw 56, Fife 20 Freeman 49, Medical Lake 45 Hermiston, Ore. 74, Hanford 45 Issaquah 45, Mount Si 40 Kalama 42, Three Rivers Christian School 24 Kamiakin 79, Walla Walla 47 […]
22 hours ago
FILE - U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin attends a welcome ceremony before a meeting with his ...
Associated Press

Austin in Philippines to discuss larger US military presence

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is in the Philippines on Wednesday for talks about deploying U.S. forces and weapons in more Philippine military camps to ramp up deterrence against China’s increasingly aggressive actions toward Taiwan and in the disputed South China Sea. Austin flew Tuesday night to Manila from South Korea, where […]
22 hours ago
FILE - Abortion-rights protesters project messages to a building during an event sponsored by Susan...
Associated Press

Anti-abortion activists aim to sway GOP White House hopefuls

CHICAGO (AP) — Emboldened anti-abortion activists are looking to the 2024 presidential election as an opportunity to solidify their influence over the Republican Party. Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, the most influential group in the anti-abortion movement, is telling each potential GOP presidential hopeful that to win its backing — or avoid being a target […]
22 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Review: Two publishing power brokers in ‘Turn Every Page’