In ‘Turn Every Page’, Two Literary Giants Spar Over Topics Great And Small: “They Disagree Viciously About The Semicolon”  Contenders Documentary

At the age of 87, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning author Robert Caro continues work on the fifth volume of his magisterial biography of Lyndon Baines Johnson. For every step of the journey on the LBJ books, and before that on his 1974 classic The Power Broker, one figure has been looking over his shoulder, as it were: the editor Robert Gottlieb. They occupy the very apex of their fields. 

The relationship between the literary titans is explored in the Sony Pictures Classics documentary Turn Every Page – The Adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb, directed by Lizzie Gottlieb (Robert Gottlieb’s daughter). As the film reveals, the interactions between the two men can be contentious. 

RELATED: The Contenders Documentary – Deadline’s Full Coverage

“They disagree viciously about the semicolon,” Lizzie Gottlieb noted during an appearance at Deadline’s Contenders Film: Documentary awards-season event. “Everything is important to them, the biggest things and the smallest details.” 

Despite being the daughter of one of the two main subjects of the film, Gottlieb faced great difficulty getting Caro and her dad to assent to the project. 

“They were both reluctant,” the director said. “It was kind of a white whale for me, to be able to make this film, which from the minute I thought of it, it was like I had this crazy determination to try to make it happen… What I felt was that if I could capture something between them, I would really be able to open a window into this world of how books get made, of this sort of secretive process and this kind of magical alchemy that has happened between these two guys for 50 years and is still ongoing.” 

Gottlieb insisted that her cinematic endeavor did not interrupt progress on Caro’s final volume of The Years of Lyndon Johnson, a book that, it would be an understatement to say, is highly anticipated. 

“Wherever I go, when I say I’ve been working on this movie, I have like grown men start weeping, saying, ‘Where’s volume 5? Where’s volume 5? Stop wasting his time with the movie!’ I don’t think we kept [Caro] from finishing volume 5. I think he’s on it and he’s going to finish volume 5,” Gottlieb said, adding, “I thought it was important to recognize how much is at stake right now. So, it’s not just a film about a history and a relationship that’s in the past, but there’s so much at stake right now for these two men in trying to finish their life’s work in a kind of race against time… I guess there was also a lot at stake for me personally as my father is 91 years old and I was trying to kind of hold on to every moment I had with him.” 

Check back Wednesday for the panel video.

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