[font=Arial]A man in his late 40s tells a woman ten years younger than she is about a new illustrated version of the bible that he would like to sell to her. His hands are racked with arthritis. His nickname is The Badger, perhaps because his hair looks like one or because that's what he's doing with this customer. His name is Paul Brennen, the main subject in Albert and David Masles' documentary, Salesman.
Salesman isn't just a movie about Brennen, but about America in many respects. Along with three other Boston-natives The Gipper, The Rabbit and The Bull, Brennen sold bible to Catholic households with information given to them by the local churches. They handle many different types of customers in different climates up and down the continental United States. These four men travel together for comraderie, but also to beat down the pressures that come with the job (all four are avid chain-smokers). Between the pitches, each carries onto the dream of greater wealth, a dream encouraged falsely by the company they work for. We go to the sales meetings, which hold more dispair than the pep they're designed to bring.
In the middle of this is Brennen, who starts off thinking he's just having a dry run of luck. But as the others keep seeing success while he's still falling deeper into decline. His life on the road has isolated him from his wife, where the only conversation we hear between them is distant and sterile. The company lines make it clear that this product sells itself and that if you're not selling, there's only you to blame. And as the days keep going by, Paul's desperation reaches deeper levels of unprofessionalism as he goes from lying to customers to selling more aggressively than should be allowed.
Salesman sees a country at the beginning of a slide into commericalism and mass consumption. It shows us a real world where men will sell you your religion on a payment plan (I'd hate see someone come repo a bible). There's a dark humor in all of this, the professional way this company tries to encourage it's salesmen to pitch and sell "the world's best-seller of all time", while motivational speakers make these road-weary agents the equivolent of Jesus Christ.
For directors Albert and David Maysles with editor and co-director Charlotte Zwerin, this is a crowning achievement in documentary filmmaking as they use a technique that puts a distance between the camera and it's subject, but allows the subject to be of focus at all times, like a novel. Maysles states that this technique was inspired by Truman Capote's revolutionary writing style used for In Cold Blood. We follow all four men, but we get closer and more interested in Paul. The others are concerned for him, first starting off with an intervention and ending with Paul riding shotgun with The Gipper which ends with Paul getting the blunt end of a embarrasing moment by his partner. The film feels like fiction, but comes through clear enough to believe it to be real life. And in Paul, they find a soul falling into a dispair of his own making and yet a fall was going to happen one way or another. There's only so much time before the magic of persuasion is lost. And for a salesman who lives and eats off the high that comes with such persuasion, this is almost as bad as a death blow.
Ultimately, this film is powerful without being overwhelming. It's earnest without being coy. And when we look at Paul Brennen by the end of the film, we feel that more than a part of his soul is lost, but a part of our country's as well. The film is sad, but not depressing. And I cannot tell you how important this film should be in the classrooms.
One last thing I'd like to say: The National Registry put Salesman on it's list in 1991. This film is considered a national treasure. After seeing it, you'll understand why.[/font]