I was intensely curious how a documentary that focuses on writing and books could be engaging. But I found this film one of a kind. Not only is it intensely engaging, but the subjects of the documentary, Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb, are both charming and riveting to watch. The documentary was informative and interesting and makes me want to watch more from this filmmaker. It truly captures two literary giants.
Turn Every Page – The Adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb is a documentary film by Lizzie Gottlieb about the relationship between biographer Robert Caro and his editor Robert Gottlieb. The film focuses as much on the dynamic and working relationship between the two as much as the work of both men. The movie also shares details of both men’s roots, their relationships beyond work, and the details of both’s careers.
Part of what makes this film so phenomenally good is the way it is put together. Lizzie Gottlieb clearly understands her father and his work. But she also arranges the material in such a way as to create a charismatic story. Instead of tackling just the writing and editing process, she focuses on the personalities of both men. The film uses a variety of tools to provide insight into both men. We have interviews with those who’ve read Caro’s work or worked with Gottlieb, including Obama and Bill Clinton. We are introduced to their spouses, who share quirks about both men. We are treated to readings by Ethan Hawke, illuminating concepts and ideas in Caro’s writing. Lizzie Gottlieb also has political figures who read Caro’s biographies and concepts of power speak about how the work influenced them. Every little element adds to the greater whole, sharing why both men are such literary giants.
What makes it so compelling is the charisma and charm of both men. Robert Gottlieb, in particular, is funny and witty. The film does a fantastic job of sharing how Robert Caro was influenced by his newspaper career and why he wanted to write a book to explore power. Ultimately it also shares why his writing is so influential that he explores not only power but the cost of it in human lives and the impact it has on the powerless. He does this by giving space to marginalized people. His dedication to perfection and his passion for writing is only matched by the same spirit in Robert Gottlieb. That dynamic is part of what makes the film so fascinating.
By the same token, Robert Gottlieb was influenced by his early home life as well and his love and passion for reading, which led him to become an editor. He is a man who has edited some of the most famous writers in the last fifty years, and while Caro is one of the most famous biographers, Gottlieb is the most famous editor of his time. The exploration of their partnership, their lives, and the books they worked on together is powerful.
The interviews with both are what is most engaging in this documentary. They are both unique and unusual men, both passionate about writing and books. Not only are they interesting, but so too are their spouses, both men happily married. And even as the documentary was being filmed, Caro was researching and working on the last book in the Lyndon B. Johnson series. Yet, his drive for perfection has meant that it is as of yet unfinished. In the end, it is the passion for books, writing, and the interactions between the two that make the ending beautiful and compelling. The documentary was unexpectedly powerful and absorbing to watch.
If you like films about writing, about books, or want to know more about such amazing men, these giants of the literary world, I highly recommend this film. It is dynamic and riveting, and both men are extremely charismatic and charming, funny and interesting to watch on screen. I want to read Caro’s biographies and the books Gottlieb edited and see more documentaries by Lizzie Gottlieb. The film was one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen.
Rating: 5 out of 5 semi-colons.
Official Website: Turn Every Page: The Adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb | Official Website | December 30 2022
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