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Review of Turn Every Page

Two men, Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb, facing each other with bookshelf in the background.Some movie theatres have felt like book fairs lately, with editors, publishers, and writers turning up in droves to see the film Turn Every Page.

The documentary is about the editor–author relationship between Robert Gottlieb and Robert Caro. The two have collaborated for over 50 years on Caro’s five biographies: The Power Broker and four of five volumes about Lyndon Johnson (with the pair currently working together on the final volume).

WCEA partner Audrey McClellan saw Turn Every Page in Palm Springs, and Lucy Kenward and Lana Okerlund caught it in Vancouver. All were left inspired and humbled. In Lucy’s words:

I hadn’t realized that Gottlieb is now 91 and Caro is 87 or that the documentary was made by Gottlieb’s daughter, Lizzie. All of those facts add up to an insightful and human film that celebrates two incredibly brilliant men and the remarkable and respectful relationship they’ve built over five books and several million manuscript pages. (For The Power Broker, they had to cut 350,000 words to get the book down to 1,336 pages, the maximum number of pages that would fit between two covers!)

The film is a really brilliant picture of what editing can be, which is to say a deeply shared intention between writer and editor. Yes, there are tussles over semi-colons and overused words—“loom,” for example—but what emerges most strongly is how much both men love the written word and what it can reveal.

Gottlieb reminds us that editing is a service job. He says at one point: ”Editing is an intelligent and sympathetic reaction to the text and to what the author is trying to accomplish. When you try to change something into something that it isn’t, rather than make it better at what it is, tragedy lurks.”

If it’s too late to catch the film in a theatre where you live, watch for it on any streaming service you have access to. It’s worth the wait!

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