The adorable documentary “Turn Every Page: The Adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb” opens with the typewriter’s statico pecs with black-and-white credits, which will be music to the ears of some viewers. At the heart of the documentary, author Robert Caro writes excellent non-fiction books – “The Power Broker,” his 1,280-page study of how Robert Moses literally shaped New York City, and “The Years of Lyndon Johnson,” his four-volume biography. Currently waiting for its fifth and final volume – but tap these imperially detailed and adorable tomes on the old electric typewriter, as the X-ing out passages go along, backing up each page with extra sheets and fragments. Of carbon paper. You can’t get more analog than that. As “turn every page” reveals, Caro is still married in the ways of the last century; The digital revolution has not touched him. It is up to us to decide whether Caro is merely a fascinating quirk or somehow mysteriously integral to the fact that Caro has been hailed as one of the greatest biographers of his time. I want to say last.
“Turn Every Sheet,” which is about the relationship between Caro and her longtime editor Robert Gottlieb (this is actually the story of both men), this publication is a love letter for many parts of the world that have more or less fallen apart. . The film was directed by Lizzie Gottlieb, daughter of Robert Gottlieb, and if it makes it look like a comfortable family affair, the film is carefully identical and revealing. The real family is the community of Caro and Gottlieb, who have been working together for over 50 years. The two almost never see each other outside the editing session, but when they search for the manuscript, they are like literary high priests operating in their own unique plane – translating, happily, in partnership, which everyone, including them, describes. Fictionally controversial. They argue on every page, every semicolon. (Caro loves his semicolons; Gottlieb hates them.)
Caro, 86, and Gottlieb, 91, both started out as good Jewish boys in New York, each taking a different missionary approach to what writing might be. Gottlieb has a form and behavior that may remind you of Woody Allen, but he is like Woody Allen who survived neurosis. (He was in the analysis for eight years, but he stopped. And it worked!) For all his Beagle-ish geek honesty, he was one of the world’s foremost shufflers and rose to prominence in the literary world, probably more than any single personality. Establish the power and mystery of book publishing in the post-war era.
The film portrays Gottlieb as a complementary editor, stunned every manuscript he received on the night he received it, scrutinizing him as an ideal reader / critic. In the 60’s and 70’s, he built Knopf as a single empire and was far ahead of the game to realize that the best sellers who do not pretend to be art can bankroll the literature. Gottlieb has excellent stories (he discovered the manuscript of “Catch-22” and renamed it “18” to “22”), and he is estimated to have edited 600 to 700 books. (His authors include John Chiver, Tony Morrison, John Le Carey, Doris Lessing, Bruno Bethlehem, Barbara Touchman, Salman Rushdie, Ray Bradbury, and Michael Crichton.)
If Gottlieb, at times, might look like Dandy (he was so good that he found time for the moon as a programmer and marketer for George Balanche’s New York City ballet), Carro, business but still beautiful, his low bro new. York pronunciation, his books are as humble as a monument. He started as a reporter for Newsday, and when he started writing the biography of Robert Moses, he had no agreement, no connection. It took him seven years to finish the book, partly because Moses was forced to tell the story of how he changed New York, especially with its highway system, but the lives of the communities he blocked. Caro is a biographer of American power from top to bottom.
Still, he was disappointed to finish the book. He was broken, with family. So his wife and researcher, Ina, sold her home on Long Island and moved into a shabby apartment in the Bronx, where she hated them. But luck smiled when Caro met Agent Lynn Nesbitt, who showed off her amazing breadth of talent and met with four editor-in-chief, one of whom was Gottlieb. Three of them took Caro to lunch in season four and said they would make her a star. Caro said she had no interest. Gnomish humility, you think: this guy.) But Gottlieb, who knew in 15 pages that “The Power Broker” was a masterpiece, ordered a sandwich in his office and talked about how to shape the book. He won the job.
They had to cut Carro’s million-word manuscript into 700,000 words. And there was no fat! There is nothing to go on. The book could not be bigger than that – its spine would literally be broken – so the two men pulled out one third of the manuscript and stayed together for 10 months. Caro never thought the book would sell, but The Power Broker, published in 1974, is now in its 41st edition. It has been sold for half a century. That’s because it’s a study of how the world – money, power and ego – really works. This will be Caro’s grand theme. Robert Moses and then Lyndon B. As Johnson’s story unfolded, he was exposing the secret history of the 20th century.
The documentary features a thrilling scene when Caro, who lived in Lyndon Johnson’s childhood home, remembers talking to Johnson’s brother, who was then ill with cancer, and telling him the truth about Johnson. The false folklore that Johnson had been following for years was removed, as the brother told a dark story about what really happened. As president, Carroll began collecting stories about how Johnson, who led a law that revolutionized people’s lives (civil rights, Medicare), cut his throat and trampled on morality. The author decided that he wanted to acquaint readers with Johnson’s “disappointment.” He scotch-taped an index card to the lamp that said, “Is this page frustrating?” The revelation from Johnson’s Crow’s Dog Reporting, which rigged the 1948 Texas Senate election, lays the foundation for a deeper humanitarian view of how politics and corruption go hand in hand in the United States.
In “Turn Every Sheet”, we never see Caro and Gottlieb in the same room – at least not until the end, when they’re together for an editing session, even though those two people didn’t allow it to be filmed with sound. . (That is the top secret of their editing process.) Yet these two old but important personalities are telling us with the spike of their cross-referential camaraderie, what publication might be: the sacred quest to create something that binds readers. The way religion does.
Caro, as we have seen, has a true cult of people who adore his books (they are Conan O’Brien, Ethan Hawke, Lisa Lucas, and David Remnick, all of whom are interviewed) and are awaiting Joe Johnson’s fifth volume. Like a biography it is meant to be handed down a stone tablet. “Turn every page” is rooted in an age when people could feel that way about books. So you can say that this movie is indifferent to the lost age of publication. But the word “nostalgia” does not justify why such books were once so important. They are immersive, they are history – but more than that, they are the foundation of a civilized society. These are the books that remind us, in the age of shattered meditation and intoxicating media, the big picture is the real picture. Everything else is pieces.