“Salesman” is like “Glengarry Glen Ross” meets Keroac’s “On the Road”.

This documentary is a raw look at the lives of four door-to-door Bible peddlers in the 1960s, as they hustle across the Northeast and Florida.

They are armed with nothing but their wits, their charm, and a seemingly unshakable faith in the American dream.

It’s a doc that’ll make you laugh, cringe, and maybe even shed a tear as you watch these men grapple with the harsh realities of their chosen profession.

You see their endless rejection, high-pressure tactics and the gnawing sense that maybe, just maybe, they’ve hitched their wagons to the wrong star.

Trailer for “Salesman”

Watch “Salesman”

Release date: August 30, 1969

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  • My Rating: 97/100
  • IMDB Rating: 7.7/10
  • Rotten Tomatoes Ratings: 89/100 (Users); 100/100 (Critics)

Review of “Salesman”

“Salesman” is the groundbreaking 1969 documentary from directors Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin.

It follows four door-to-door Bible salesmen as they ply their trade across the Northeast and Florida.

Over the course of 91 minutes, we get an unflinching look at the realities of their profession.

There’s the grueling travel, constant rejection, and high-pressure tactics.

The doc centers on Paul “The Badger” Brennan, a star salesman who can talk almost anyone into buying a $49.50 Bible.

We watch him deliver well-honed pitches to working-class Catholic families

He even persuades a man who can barely afford food to make a purchase. It’s a masterful performance, but also a deeply unsettling one.

As the documentary progresses, the toll of the job becomes increasingly apparent.

The salesmen face relentless criticism from their managers, who push them to close more deals at any cost.

They struggle with loneliness, homesickness, and a growing sense of futility.

When asked why he continues in such a thankless line of work, Paul responds bleakly, “I don’t know anything else.”

“Salesman” is a stark and uncompromising portrait of American capitalism at its most ruthless.

The Maysles and Zwerin capture the salesmen’s world in unsparing detail.

You get to see the shabby motels where they stay to the greasy spoons where they eat. The black-and-white cinematography adds to the sense of desperation and decay.

Though more than five decades have passed since its release, the doc remains startlingly relevant.

In an era of widening inequality and precarious employment, the struggles of the salesmen feel all too familiar.

“Salesman” raises uncomfortable questions about the nature of work.

It shows the limits of the American dream, and the human cost of a society that prioritizes profit above all else.

At the same time, the doc is not without empathy for its subjects.

The Maysles and Zwerin never condescend to the salesmen or treat them as mere symbols of a larger social ill.

Instead, they capture the men in all their complexity – their hopes and fears, their moments of triumph and despair.

We see them not just as workers, but as fathers, husbands, and dreams, each grappling with the weight of their own failures and disappointments.

This humane approach is a hallmark of the Maysles’ style, which would come to be known as vérité style (aka “fly on the wall” or “direct cinema).

Rather than relying on interviews or narration, they simply observe their subjects going about their lives.

This lets the drama unfold organically.

The result is a kind of intimacy and immediacy that feels radically different from traditional documentary filmmaking.

In “Salesman”, this technique proves especially powerful. By eschewing any overt editorializing, the Maysles and Zwerin force us to confront the salesmen’s reality on its own terms. We are not told what to think or how to feel; we are simply invited to witness and to draw our own conclusions.

The result is a film that lingers long after the final credits have rolled. “Salesman” is not an easy watch, but it is an essential one.

It remains a landmark of nonfiction cinema, a haunting meditation on the dark underbelly of the American dream.

Thanks for reading!

Rob Kelly, Chief Maniac, Daily Doc