Turn the Page. Courtesy Sony Pictures

Literary giants deserve equal time  in “Turn Every Page: The Adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb”

Both these characters are fascinating, and both probably deserve feature-length documentaries devoted entirely to their individual bodies of work.

  • Directed by: Lizzie Gottlieb
  • Starring: Robert Gottlieb, Robert Caro
  • Documentary | PG | 1 hr 52 min
  • Coming to Kansas City Theaters March 3

By Reed Ripley

Turn Every Page suffers from the same problem plenty of documentaries have: its subjects are so fascinating, and their text so rich, that a two-hour runtime feels more like a Wikipedia greatest hits session than a truly insightful product.

On one hand, you’ve got Robert Caro, widely considered one of the most insightful commentators and historians on modern American power, author of 1974’s The Power Broker and his soon-to-be five-volume, decades-long exhaustive series on Lyndon Johnson. 

On the other, you’ve got Robert Gottlieb, among the greatest editors in the history of literature. Apart from the long-standing, 50-plus year relationship editing Caro’s works, he’s edited works from little-known authors such as John le Carré, Ray Bradbury, Charles Portis, Michael Crichton, Toni Morrison, Bill Clinton, Paul Simon, and Bob Dylan. Oh, and in his spare time, he edited The New Yorker and served on the Boards of both the New York City Ballet and the Miami City Ballet. 

Both these characters are fascinating, and both probably deserve feature-length documentaries devoted entirely to their individual bodies of work. Turn Every Page tries to focus on both somewhat equally, and mostly separately, and that’s it’s biggest problem. The film’s director, Lizzie Gottlieb (Bob Gottlieb’s daughter) openly acknowledges her subjects’ hesitancy to dive deeply into their editing relationship, but instead of leaning into that friction, she obliges to separate the two until the very last, and frustratingly short, scene. 

The film has a wonderful premise in Caro and Gottlieb’s relationship. These are two undeniable literary titans, and both drew the best from one another through their working relationship. Yet Turn Every Page almost runs away from that relationship, instead choosing to go back and forth between each man’s career highlights instead of really drilling into the tick-tock of their back-and-forth. 

I don’t mean to say this film doesn’t have an audience, as it certainly does. There’s a poignant scene early on that moves from journalist to journalist at their home setups, each one having The Power Broker prominently positioned in an obligatory background bookshelf. It’s a framing that became familiar throughout the pandemic, and it’s a knowing wink-wink, nod-nod to other Caro readers, undeniably the film’s target audience.

There’s also a brilliant bit about Caro’s love of semicolons and Gottlieb’s vitriol toward that specific bit of punctuation. It’s a wonderful dive into the minutia of writing, especially on Caro’s level, and for those who appreciate the passion a writer has about every spare character that goes into a piece, it’s catnip. 

Sure, it’s great to see Caro walk through the treasure trove of Lyndon Johnson’s presidential library, and see Gottlieb dutifully mark up a working draft, but It’s hard not to feel Turn Every Page is a missed opportunity to dive deeper into what makes Caro and Gottlieb tick. 

Turn the Page is playing at the Glenwood Arts Theater.

Reed Ripley is a local attorney with a flare for watching movies. You can find more reviews from Reed Ripley at Ripleysreviews.com

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