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Filmmakers (and brothers) Albert and David Maysles follow four employees of a company that makes expensive, ornate, illustrated bibles as they attempt to sell the items door-to-door to less-than-interested customers, who are mainly poor or lower-middle-class Catholics with little money to spend on pretty Bibles. Written by
Gary Dickerson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
As with Frederick Wiseman's "Titicut Follies," the Maysles brothers' "Salesman" is truly a landmark for the "cinema verite" documentary movement of the 1960s. Although the former is shockingly realistic in a sensational way, "Salesman" is actually the more disturbing for showing the Hell-on-earth that marks the workaday world for most of humanity. If ever a film shows that most people "lead lives of quiet desperation," this is it. In my lifetime of viewing films, I've never seen a non-fiction film more affecting and poignant. That this film didn't make the AFI Top 100 is practically scandalous. Be forewarned, this is an oppressively sad, yet slyly funny, film that is not easy to watch. It speaks volumes about American business practices, the ties between business and organized religion, the exploitation of religious belief (and its perversion via materialism), the dehumanization of workers, the crushing wisdom that can come with aging, the scary mindset of suburban denizens, and a lot more. If ever anyone had the right to ask the question, "Is that all there is?" it would be Paul, an aging Bible salesman having trouble meeting his sales quota, who serves as the film's central character. The film is brutally honest, yet powerfully manipulative. It does beg the question: how much is real and how much is affected by the presence of the cameras? One does feel, after seeing this, that reality is just as bad as Dorothy Parker said it was. For those who fail, the American Dream is a nightmare. In short, a film you'll never forget.
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