The beginning of 2023 at SHC features several tie-ins with the literary world. From an Oscar nominated script from Nobel laureate Kazuo Ishiguro to Lizzie Gottlieb’s documentary about powerhouse literary duo Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb to the great Frederick Wiseman’s latest film, a monologue based on Sophia Tolstoy’s diaries.

Kazuo Ishiguro, a novelist who is most well known for Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day, maintains that he never intended to write the now Oscar nominated screenplay, but was inspired to revisit the main character of Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru after a chance meeting with Bill Nighy:

It struck me that we have a version of Chishu Ryu right now in Britain, and that is Bill Nighy, with that mixture of irony, self-deprecating humour, stoicism and a happy resignation to the essential sadness of life,” Ishiguro adds. “I mean, these are the things Ryu conveyed miraculously, and I thought Bill could do it. Even the name Williams, I derived it from Bill’s first name. We would have been in real trouble if Bill hadn’t wanted to do it.

The source material also has a literary origin:

Living is an English-language remake of the Akira Kurosawa film Ikiru; many Kurosawa films have been adapted to the English language, and most famously his action classic Seven Samurai was remade as The Magnificent Seven. Ikiru itself was inspired by Leo Tolstoy‘s beloved 1886 novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich. Ikiru and Living are virtually identical in concept, but not in execution.

Read the full article here.

Bill Nighy and director Oliver Hermanus

A Couple (opening 2/3) frames a different literary story, as Ben Kenigsberg summarizes in his Critic’s Pick review:

“A Couple” stars the French actress Nathalie Boutefeu as Sophia Tolstoy, who married the “War and Peace” author Leo Tolstoy when she was 18, half his age. The title has a tinge of irony to it, because this is a one-woman movie. Its principal concern is giving the less famous half of a literary marriage her say.

Jennifer Wilson, a doctor of Russian literature, describes how Wiseman brings the letters and diaries to life through monologues and the lens of a camera:

A Couple has an almost claustrophobic quality. Despite being shot outdoors in picturesque Belle-Île off the coast of Brittany, it takes place within the overwhelmed mind of a woman driven to near madness by a totalizing marriage, the exhaustions of wifedom and motherhood exacerbated by romantic addiction. Only she appears onscreen, pondering her forty-eight-year marriage through fields of trembling daisies and alongside quiet ponds disturbed by passing breezes, but you can feel her famous husband’s presence with every strong wind and knotted branch, threatening to a knock the helpless-seeming Boutefeu to the ground. A Couple looks like a nature documentary, the Tolstoy marriage distilled to visual metaphor: crashing waves meeting rocky shores.

Read the full review here.

Nathalie Boutefeu as Sophia Tolstoy in A COUPLE

Turn Every Page: The Adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb premiered at Sag Harbor Cinema at the end of last year (and will reopen 2/10) and featured a Q&A with Bob Caro and director Lizzie Gottlieb. The Atlantic describes the unique, and often argumentative, relationship that has led to books like The Power Broker:

As writer and editor, respectively, they have together produced 4,888 pages over the course of 50 years, including the multivolume, still unfinished saga that is Caro’s biography of Lyndon B. Johnson. A lasting collaboration of this sort is impossible to imagine in today’s publishing world of constant churn. Then there’s their method: Caro puts on a dark suit every day, writes his drafts out in longhand, and copies them onto carbon paper using his Smith Corona typewriter, after which Gottlieb marks them up with a pencil—like a couple of cobblers still making shoes with an awl. Whatever deal Caro got from Gottlieb and Knopf in the 1970s, it has allowed him to work monastically on this biography project seemingly without any other source of income. As Caro’s longtime agent, Lynn Nesbit, says of the arrangement in Turn Every Page, a new documentary about Caro and Gottlieb, “I doubt that it could ever happen again.”

Read the full article here.

In an interview with NPR, Gottlieb describes the work and relationships involved in being one of the most prolific editors in the business:

Robert Gottlieb says he knew after reading just 15 pages of Caro’s manuscript for The Power Broker that he was holding a masterpiece. Still, it took him a year to edit the book, not because Caro had written poorly, but because Caro had written enough to fill two volumes.

“There was no way that I could publish two volumes about Robert Moses. I remember saying to Bob [Caro], ‘Maybe we can interest readers in one book about Robert Moses, but there’s no way I can interest them in two,’ ” Robert Gottlieb recalls. “We finally decided, after years of discussing it in an amicable way, that we’d cut 350,000 words out of the original manuscript.”

Robert Gottlieb describes editing as a service job: "Our job is to serve the word, serve the author, serve the text."