Along with Grey Gardens, Salesman is a great Maysles documentary although to what extent the reality of selling bibles converges on the film makers narrative is open to question. Nevertheless the work displays an honesty that disects the relentless pressure on the salesmen to meet their targets regardless of the tactics used to secure a sale. Interestingly the Maysles were not allowed to show footage of the bible salesmen making their pitch at local Catholic churches where they got their leads. For me the film's pathos is centred on 'Badger' a salesman who would not be out of place in Arthur Miller's 'Death of a Saleman'. There is much to enjoy in this film not least the customers, getting lost in the suburbs of Florida and the mock heroics at the annual sales convention.
"Salesman" was directed, produced, lensed and edited by Albert and David Maysles in 1968 and is a product of what is regarded "Direct Cinema" or "Cinema Verite" in France. "Direct Cinema" is a branch of documentary film-making, developed in the late 50s/early60s, who's objective is to show reality utilising hand-held cameras and captured sound. The one significant difference is the removal of the god-like voice of a narrator and instead replace it with an objective fly-on-the-wall observation of events.
"Salesman" follows a group of four Bible salesman, mainly Paul "The Badger" Brennan, as they attempt to sell very expensive church endorsed literature to people who can't afford it. What we get is a wonderful portrait of middle America that is very humane and funny at the same time. It could be said the real story is told in the editing room but unlike "reality TV" one doesn't get the sense that events are being manipulated for entertainment value although some would disagree as is illustrated by "David Holzman's Diary"(Jim McBride,1968)
"Salesman" was a breakthrough success for the Maysles brothers and they would have further success the following year with "Gimme Shelter" which followed the Rolling Stones' 1969 tour of America.