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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 <email@example.com>
"Salesman" isn't quite the Maysles Bros.' (and Charlotte Zwerin's) crowning achievement, although it comes close. I personally feel that "Gimme Shelter" is their best film, but that might have something to do with it being a more enjoyable, if still harrowing film. "Salesman" is an uncomfortable examination of human emotions, and provokes a strong reaction of guilt and sympathy. Some may insist that a documentary has to be somewhat relevant to have any real value, but "Salesman", a film on the lives of door-to-door salesmen, the product of a mostly by-gone era, is pure contradiction of this claim.
A landmark 'cinema verite' film, "Salesman" does not feature any sort of narration or writing, allowing the viewer to take the images presented in the film and interpret them as they wish. There are statements that the Maysles Bros. are probably trying to make with this film, statements about suburbia, statements about the ties between business and organized religion, and more, but the beauty of the film is that it is up to you if you see this in the film or not, because really it is simply a document of an average day for a salesman at the time.
"Salesman" is funny in parts, but taken as a whole it is one of the saddest films you will ever see, a document of the quiet desperation of this lifestyle. The directors of the film make powerful statements, but do so subtly, almost unobtrusively, allowing the viewer to fully engage themselves in the almost routine feel of the film. It is a crime that, despite its strong reputation, relatively few people have seen this essential film from possibly the very best documentary filmmakers there have ever been.
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