This is one fine piece of film that I’ve watched over and over: Four persistent and ever-so-needy door-to-door salesmen deal with rejection, homesickness, and inevitable burnout as they travel the east coast selling pricey bibles to low-income Catholic families. In many ways the salesmen are poorer than the low-income parish members they go after for a sale. Salesman is a profound 85-minute look back at 1968 and a dubious firm, The Mid-American Bible Company.
Why am I fascinated with this documentary? For many of the same reasons that caused Vincent Canby to write his 1968 review of the film in The New York Times:
Albert and David Maysles’s Salesman, which opened yesterday at the 68th Street Playhouse, is a documentary feature about four door-to-door Bible salesmen who move horizontally through the capitalistic dream. It’s such a fine, pure picture of a small section of American life that I can’t imagine its ever seeming irrelevant, either as a social document or as one of the best examples of what’s called cinema vérité or direct cinema.
Read the full review via the NYT Archives. And if you have a chance, watch the documentary.
Produced and directed by:
Albert Maysles and David Maysles; cinematographer, Albert Maysles; edited by David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin; released by Maysles Films. Black and white.
Running time: 90 minutes.
The real people:
Jamie Baker, Paul Brennan, Melbourne I. Feltman, Raymond Martos, Margaret McCarron, Charles McDevitt, and Kennie Turner.