Albert Maysles: Salesman

Albert Maysles: Salesman

*****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Albert Maysles and his brother David are credited with devising a documentary style they called "new technique of movie making; direct cinema," which was a response to the French cinema verite, inviting the audience to take from their movies what they will, rather than directing the action. The good news is that you need to know none of this to enjoy their work.

And, at the risk of sounding like a salesman myself, if you get a chance to see this documentary, you should jump at it.

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The year is 1969 and the place America - but not as we know it. A group of salesmen - Paul "The Badger" Brennan, Raymond "The Bull" Martos, Charles "The Gipper" McDevitt and James "The Rabbit" Baker - travel the length and breadth of the US plying gaudily illustrated bibles and Catholic encyclopedias (you can have any colour you like... as long as it's white, or red) to people who can scarcely afford it, with varying degrees of success.

When we first catch up with them, they're plodding through the snowy streets of Massachusetts, in between pep talks from their boss and confabs about how they are doing back at their down market motel. Seeing them huddled over a game of cards, discussing strategy, puts you in mind of old school Mafiosi and, at a team meeting of around 100 other salesmen, when the boss refers to "eliminating a few men," due to lack of sales, he says it in such grim terms you could almost believe they are sleeping with the fishes.

Initially, The Badger seems upbeat. He sings off-key and has a spring in his step, even when he is struggling to find a house in a blizzard. In the evenings, the guys reconvene to celebrate successes and shore one another up if the takings have been bad.

They decide to head to Florida and it is there that The Badger appears to lose his bite, becoming increasingly tragic as the team's Jonah who might just find himself thrown overboard.

The film is full of magic moments, from the salesmen's practiced patter - "Do you think it would help the children?" "Which is your favourite picture?" "Does your husband have a birthday coming up?" - to the unintentionally funny responses from the sometimes bored, often bewildered householders, which put you in mind of the more modern Creature Comforts.

Salesman would have been excellent in any era and seems to gain in stature from a modern viewing. The references to a "Muslim district", for example, have an eerie resonance. More importantly, we now know that door-to-door selling was becoming out-dated by the end of the Sixties but, for the fervoured Badger, Bull, Gipper and Rabbit, it was still an industry packed with promise.

I'd love to come over and tell you more about it, but you need to see the goods for yourself.

Reviewed on: 16 Aug 2005
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Albert Maysles: Salesman packshot
Following four door-to-door salesmen around the States in the late Sixties.
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Director: Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin

Year: 1969

Runtime: 85 minutes

Country: US


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