Archive of films Salesman / Salesman

1968, 90 min

Section: Forum of Independents - Competition
Year: 2004

Salesman follows four door-to-door Bible salesmen. Their mission is simple: to convince people to buy what is “still the best seller in the world”. Shot in 1968, Salesman is today considered “the classic of direct cinema”. 


Salesman follows four door-to-door Bible salesmen. Paul “The Badger” Brennan, Charles “The Gipper” McDewitt, James “The Rabbit” Baker and Raymond “The Bull” Martos, are so nicknamed for their particular selling styles. The film follows them first to Boston, where their company is based, then to Chicago at a sales conference, and finally to the promising new territory of Miami. Their mission is simple: to convince people to buy what is “still the best seller in the world”. But although their customers are Catholics recommended by the local church, the Bible is a hard-sell. Talking, cajoling, telling jokes and stories, the salesmen make their pitches to lonely widows, married couples, Cuban immigrants, bored housewives – from those who clearly cannot afford the $50 book to those, who, in the end, are persuaded. Shot in 1968, Salesman is considered a classic of direct cinema.

About the director

Two of America’s foremost non-fiction filmmakers, Albert Maysles and his brother David (1932-1987) are recognized as pioneers of “direct cinema”, the distinctly American version of French ”cinema verité”. They earned their distinguished reputations by being the first to make non-fiction feature films - films in which the drama of human life unfolds as is, without scripts, sets, or narration. Born in Boston of Jewish immigrant parents from Eastern Europe, Albert received his B.A. from Syracuse and his M.A. from Boston University where he taught Psychology for three years. He made the transition from Psychology to film in the summer of 1955 by taking a 16mm camera to Russia to film patients at several psychiatric hospitals. The result, PSYCHIATRY IN RUSSIA, was Albert’s first foray into film-making.  Several years later, the Maysles brothers made a motorcycle journey from Munich to Moscow and, along the way, shot their first collaborative film: concerning the Polish student revolution. In 1960, Albert was co-film-maker of PRIMARY, a film about the Democratic primary election campaigns of Kennedy and Humphrey. The use of hand-held cameras and synchronous sound allowed the story to tell itself. With their fine-tuned sense of the scene-behind-the-scene, the Maysles brothers made MEET MARLON BRANDO (1965) and WITH LOVE FROM TRUMAN (1966). Then they came out with the landmark non-fiction feature film SALESMAN (1968), a portrait of four door-to-door Bible salesmen from Boston. It won an award from the National Society of Film Critics and is regarded as the classic American documentary. In 1992, the Library of Congress saluted the film for its historical, cultural and aesthetic significance. Albert was made a Guggenheim Fellow in 1965. His next two films became cult classics. GIMME SHELTER (1970) is the dazzling portrait of Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones on their American tour: which culminated in a killing at the notorious concert at Altamont. GREY GARDENS (1976) captures on film the haunting relationship of the Beales, a mother and daughter living secluded in a decaying East Hampton mansion. These films, like SALESMAN, were released theatrically to great acclaim. Maysles Films Inc. has produced many films on art and artists, including a long-standing collaboration of celebrated artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude, whose monumental environmental projects were documented in Academy Award-nominated CHRISTO’S VALLEY CURTAIN (1974), RUNNING FENCE  (1978), ISLANDS (1986), CHRISTO IN PARIS (1990), and UMBRELLAS (1995) - which won the Grand Prix and People’s Choice Award at the Montreal Festival of Films on Art. Albert’s forays into the world of music range from WHAT’S HAPPENING! THE BEATLES IN THE USA (1964) to films on Leonard Bernstein, Seiji Ozawa, Vladimir Horowitz, Mstislav Rostropovich and Wynton Marsalis, several of which have received Emmy Awards. In 1994, Albert filmed an up-to-date portrait of the greatest rock’n’roll band in the world, CONVERSATIONS WITH THE ROLLING STONES (broadcast on VH-1). Albert worked with Susan Froemke and Deborah Dickson on ABORTION: DESPERATE CHOICES, which examined one of the most controversial topics in America (broadcast on HBO in 1993). In 1996, LETTING GO: A HOSPICE JOURNEY told the stories of three terminally ill patients and their experiences with hospice care. Albert collaborated with Susan Froemke and Bob Eisenhardt on CONCERT OF WILLS: MAKING THE GETTY CENTER (1997). Shot over twelve years, the film chronicles the development of the Los Angeles Center, from concept through to construction. Most recently, Albert joined with Froemke and Dickson again for the HBO commissioned project LALEE’S KIN: THE LEGACY OF COTTON, a story of one family’s struggle to break free from the cycles of poverty and illiteracy in the Mississippi Delta.  In 1994, the International Documentary Association presented Albert with their Career Achievement Award. He has received S.M.P.T.E.’s 1997 John Grierson Award for Documentary, the American Society of Cinematographers’ 1998 President’s Award - given for the first time to a documentarist, the Boston Film and Video Foundation’s 1998 Vision Award, Toronto’s Hot Docs 1999 Lifetime Achievement Award, the 1999 Flaherty Award and the Thessaloniki 2001 Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1999 Eastman Kodak saluted Albert as one of the 100 world´s finest cinematographers. In 2001 Albert received the Sundance Film Festival 2001 Cinematography Award for Documentaries for LALEE´S KIN: THE LEGACY OF COTTON.  In 2002 LALEE’S KIN was nominated for an Academy Award and in 2004 the film received the DuPont Columbia Gold Baton Award. Albert was given exclusive access to the Dalai Lama and filmed his visit to New York in the summer of 2003 and is currently producing THE GATES, a documentary of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s latest art piece, THE GATES -  A PROJECT FOR NEW YORK CITY which will take place in February 2005.
Furthermore, Albert is working with Antonio Ferrera on a documentary about the Klezmer musician David Krakauer as well as on the making of Wes Anderson’s latest feature film, THE LIFE AQUATIC, starring Bill Murray.


Maysles Films, Inc
250 West 54th Street, NY 10019, New York
United States of America
Tel: +1 212 582 6050
Fax: +1 212 586 2057

About the film

Black & white, 16 mm

Section: Forum of Independents - Competition
Director: Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin
Dir. of Photography: Albert Maysles
Editor: Charlotte Zwerin
Producer: Maysles Films
Production: Maysles Films
Contact: Maysles Films, Inc


Albert Maysles

Tanja Meding



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