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>
A timeless film about the dual enemies of aging and failure
This film is about the trials and tribulations of four door-to-door Bible salesmen in 1968, on the eve of when their occupation was about to become extinct. Of course, the filmmakers could not know that at the time, but this fact is what adds to the sadness of this film today. The salesmen are four New Englanders named Paul "The Badger" Brennan, James "The Rabbit" Baker, "The Bull" and "The Gipper", their nicknames being derived from their individual sales tactics. Despite the holiness of their products, this really is a cutthroat business, as is made evident in some of the sales meetings that are shown. The main character, "The Badger", reminds me of Jack Lemmon's character in Glengarry Glen Ross. Life - and his profession - have beaten him down, and none of his sales pitches are working as he talks to one indifferent potential customer after another. These guys are always looking for a new angle to make the sale, but usually just about everything they come up with is not successful. Remember, this was in the days when people were unafraid to open their doors to strangers, and equally unafraid to be rude to them. The film not only makes you feel what these unsuccessful salesmen are feeling, it a time capsule for the end of the '60s, and a portrait of an occupation that doesn't really exist anymore due to telemarketing, Internet sales, two-income families meaning nobody is home during the day, and finally the fact that adult strangers on your doorstep are assumed to be potential criminals.
Paul Brennan really seems to have the saddest story of the four. His sales are dwindling, and he is really too old to start over in another occupation. Paul's sales become so poor that at one point that he is partnered with a more aggressive salesman so Paul can observe his technique in the hope that something will rub off on Paul. This younger, sharper salesman, who obviously has not yet developed a tolerance for human frailty, is constantly snapping at Paul for his poor technique and unenthusiastic delivery. If you're an older person who has ever worked for a younger one, you know what I'm talking about. As sorry as you may feel for him though, when we see Paul using the possibly superstitious beliefs of his customers to get them to buy products they may not be able to afford, you have mixed feelings about the man. Is Paul purely being manipulative, or is he resorting to desperate means to survive? Probably a little bit of both is true. Paul realizes that his time as a salesman is coming to a close, and it's not like he has a big bank account to fall back on. Such career struggles are expected when you are in your 20's, but by the time you are Paul's age you are expecting something more...more job stability, more respect, more financial security.
The film does add some humor throughout the film to keep the viewing experience from being too much like a funeral for both Paul's career and the profession of door-to-door salesman itself. Sometimes the salesmen lighten up and even have some camaraderie in their conversations. Sometimes there is a funny remark from the "no sale" Boston housewives the salesmen encounter, and sometimes there are even funnier remarks from the salesmen as they leave a house where they've been refused. There's also an episode in a hotel pool in the middle of the night that is rather humorous.
I'd say that even though the film has a very dated look to it, you should watch it because what it has to say about the human spirit, aging ungracefully, choosing the wrong career, and then failing at that career is timeless.
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