Salesman - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Salesman Reviews

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½ July 5, 2011
Important does not mean watchable.
½ July 4, 2011
a tad too contrived but will the real Willy Loman please stand up?
½ June 14, 2011
Oh God, I hate movies that are not a happy ending. but I don't skip watching them anyway because I learn from it.
May 13, 2011
A fascinating study of both the profession and of a radically different time and place than the one in which we live now.
½ April 11, 2011
Documentary. Bible salesmen. 1960s.
March 6, 2011
I'm sure the inspiration for Jack Lemmon's character in Glenberry Glen Ross and later the shit salesman from The Simpsons. Heartbreaking but real. Great Doc
½ January 8, 2011
The Maysles.

This is a documentary about door-to-door Bible salesmen, who hawk their wares on housewives (and occasionally their husbands) in late 60s Boston and Miami. Many times, I felt awful for the salesmen, with their index cards filled with potential leads (it sounds like they'd advertise at local Catholic churches, and the congregations were their targets), until I would watch them go to work on a poor, gullible woman and coerce her into committing to the sale. It's a sad, funny, fascinating look at a vanished profession and different world.

Boy, do I love the Maysles.
½ October 6, 2010
Tension in the room.
September 24, 2010
Amazing groundbreaking documentary that is sad on several fronts. On one front you see the death of a salesman. On the other you see the poor salesmen being taken for a ride with promises of riches in a dying market with the company bullying and berating those who do not produce. On the final front you see how these salesmen prey upon the poor and lower middle class hiding behind the disguise of piety and playing upon their faith. Who knew door-to-door Bible selling was this ruthless.
September 20, 2010
One scene has the bible salesman at a Sales Conference. Getting pep talks from superior employees, getting chewed out by the boss and then "Dr. Melbourne I. Feltman" talks about how the salesman should feel proud and privileged to help others out by selling bibles to them. The reaction shots of the men in that meeting are absolute gold. The entire film is sandwiched back to back with scenes of painful tragic comedy. One of the best documentaries i've seen.
½ September 14, 2010
A damning indictmant of a corporate world motivated by greed and preying on the desperate, the Maysles Brothers' "Salesman" follows a quartet of Bible salesmen as they make their living selling their overpriced wares to lower-income Catholic families that can barely afford them. The Maysles don't judge their subjects, however, and throughout the film, we even come to sympathize with them, and find that they're just mere cogs in the corporate machine. The beautiful black-and-white cinematography is another major asset.
May 29, 2010
My favorite documentary via the Maysles Bro's genius. If you need a refresher in cinema verite, check this out.
May 14, 2010
An absolutely groundbreaking documentary in its day, Salesman still holds up wonderfully today. The Maysles are masters of their craft, juxtaposing scenes with the utmost care and grace. There are times when Salesman actually feels like a fiction film, and all the better for it; with the presence of narrative, spectators are drawn in to the proceedings seemingly effortlessly. While the film looks to be cinema verite on its surface, Salesman actually presents a fascinating combination of verite and direct cinema. While the presence of the camera is sometimes acknowledged (typically something not done in standard verite), it's not done explicitly; the cameraman (Albert Maysles, in this case) feels as if he's part of the action, so the documentary becomes an interesting hybrid of the observational and participatory modes as defined by Bill Nichols. That, and it's beautifully shot and photographed; based on the camera angles, the Maysles effectively draw spectators in to the world of the documentary's subjects. Also, what's explored here is still shockingly relevant. Norman Mailer was right when he said that Salesman has a lot to say about American life. Thankfully, the film is still saying it loud and clear more than forty years later.
½ May 11, 2010
One of the stronger Maysles brothers films. They don't make them like this anymore. A very visceral feeling document of a now bygone era. A real window into the lives of others. It has stayed with me since I first saw it in a High School film class.
Super Reviewer
April 10, 2010
"Salesman" is a very effective cinema verite documentary from the Maysles Brothers about bible salesmen operating in Massachusetts and Florida on the surface. Unlike Jehovah's Witnesses, they are not selling religion. The targets are already believers who gave their names at their local churches. What they are really selling is status with the $50.00 bibles that can be bought with cash, C.O.D or, my personal favorite, the Catholic Honor Plan. All dollar amounts are from 1967, so this is an especially pretty penny. If you are a believer, then it is the words that count, not the packaging, unless you are trying to convince somebody else that you are wealthy enough to afford one which most of the people the salesmen talk to cannot. For these salesmen, victory comes in small bunches in this frustrating profession with its long hours on the job and nights in cheap motels. Some succeed like those that make $35,000 to $50,000 but they are rare, even as the bosses urge them that success is within their sights. And Paul Brennan, the center of attention, wonders if maybe he should have taken his family's advice to "join the force and get a pension" during one particularly bad week.
April 7, 2010
An unencumbered (mostly) look into the livelihoods and experiences of Bible salesmen in the 1960s. You'd think the book would sell itself, but apparently it was really hard.
½ March 30, 2010
salesman is a truly sad film. the maysles brothers used their approach of so called "cinema direct" to make the documentary and in its time was revolutionary to have no voice over leading the viewer to a certain conclusion. they let the images speak for themselves, but it still leads us to a particular conclusion. its a hard film to watch these bible salesmen use any tactics available to sell their product including guilt and coercion. yet they are still simply men trying to make a living.
March 24, 2010
Albert and David Maysles are better known for directing the cult documentary Grey Gardens, but their first film Salesman shows them already at the top of their game. The movie chronicles the lives of four door-to-door Bible salesmen in the late '60s, each man with his own quirks - each working for a different reason.

The men live together in motel rooms where they smoke cigarettes and spend time talking about what worked or didn't work at each of their sales calls. And then they go out. It takes a certain kind of person to be good at sales, especially of the sort shown in this film. It's a high-pressure business: it takes a lot of perseverance to turn a 'no' into a 'yes', which is what all of the salesmen have to do. They are skilled at the art of manipulation. They listen for cues, tailoring their words in order to literally guilt their prospective buyers into agreeing to monthly payments for a useless Bible.

It's unclear, actually, how the salesmen themselves feel about the product that they are peddling. There's a scene that takes place at a sales meeting in Chicago; the salesmen trade estimates for how much they will make in income for the next year, but then get moralized to by the Bible's producer who tries to get the men to think of themselves as providing a valuable service to their clients. Maybe it's a little bit of both. You can't very well sell something you don't believe in. Perhaps that's why the de facto main character Paul "The Badger" Brennan is losing his touch.

Brennan complains about the quality of his sales prospects, excusing his lack of sales on the type of people in the neighborhood. He isn't shy about pigeon-holing people based on their national ancestry. Brennan smokes cigarettes and stares off into space, he repeatedly slides into a mock-Irish accent because he thinks it's funny, and otherwise seems to be coming to the end of the ride that is sales. But when you've tied yourself to something like this, it's not easy to get off. The other salesmen - The Gipper, The Rabbit, and The Bull - are all mostly more successful at their jobs than Brennan is. They too have to struggle with the demands that their job places on them, but they are younger and therefore better suited for the pace. Or as the case is with The Bull, they've just got a talent for smooth-talking.

The sales calls themselves are almost painful to watch. People are pretty much bullied into buying Bibles - there's a way to overcome every objection. Where reason fails to convince a prospect, emotional appeals will do just as well. How will this Bible benefit your children in the long run? Several of these scenes just blew me away. The salesmen return from their outings and ask each other, "How was the battle?" Because each sales opportunity is really treated as though it is a battle. They have to tread lightly, to mold the conversation so that it leads to their desired outcome.

But there's more here than just the sales calls. Watching the men interact with one another is as much of a treat. They are all in this together, and yet they are all reacting to it in their own way. Watch the men nervously look toward their watches when Brennan begins his usual list of complaints, or the way the younger salesmen are able to relax more than the older men can. Hell, just watch the way that the men smoke. Say what you will about the health hazards of smoking cigarettes, but I swear that using a cigarette as a prop in a film is about as inherently wonderful as is adding handclaps to any song. It just makes everything better. This was an era where smoking was the norm, not the exception, giving each of the men a certain air of... well, different things. For some of the men, it signified aloofness. For others, despair. Maybe it meant more for I the viewer than for them.

Of course a lot of the credit for the film's success goes to the editing of Charlotte Zwerin. The knack of the Maysles for finding shots that felt almost too perfectly constructed to be natural, combined with Zwerin's skill for placing scenes together to build their significance makes for a remarkable experience. Just listening to the way the subjects in the film talk is often as riveting as the events that take place.

Salesman is an extraordinary documentary. I know I'm having trouble articulating what makes it so great. I guess it's clear that I am no salesman myself. There's this scene in Errol Morris' documentary Gates of Heaven where a woman goes into a sort of monologue about a nearby pet cemetery, but winds up talking instead about the fact that her grandson doesn't appreciate her. It is a jaw-dropping scene because the words she speaks seem so perfect that if they had been scripted, it would have made it a certain contender for some Best Writing award. But it was real. Here, almost every scene works like that. If it were scripted, it would be spectacular. The fact that it's all true, well, that only makes it more exciting.

This is a film you should definitely check out.
March 5, 2010
A superb - and superbly depressing - piece of tranche de vie, a nonfictional Death of a Salesman without commentary in which we see four miserable Bible salesmen almost dying before our eyes as they wade through a futile, Beckettian landscape of botched interactions. The central figure, Paul, with his increasingly embarrassing Irish impersonations and clear loss of purpose, is by far the most real, and the most compelling, while the the other three are more furtive passers on the way to what would seem to be an inevitably desolate conclusion. Some of the insights into the class life of the American public who examine (and more often than not, fail to purchase) their spiritual wares are unforgettable, and the naturalism with which the Maysles shot this is astonishing given the date: at times it is horrible to watch; it is equally impossible to look away, and the final breakdown and humiliation of Paul is as memorable a culmination to a film about nullity as we're likely to see. The beauty of the film, of course, is that these men are vendors of Bibles, but they could just as easily be selling any other gimcrack or gewgaw capitalism serves up to any of us; that in a horrible sense this works well because we are all, deep down, hackneyed and roadworn Bible salesman, with little heart and increasingly little pride.
½ February 16, 2010
quite moving and beautifully photographed. and mad men gets it right -
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