Writer-Directors: Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin
Stars: Paul “The Badger” Brennan, Charles “The Gipper” McDevitt, James “The Rabbit” Baker, Raymond “The Bull” Martos
The Story: Four increasingly desperate door-to-door bible salesmen bluff their way into working-class homes, trying to get wary housewives to buy a deluxe $50 bible on the installment plan.
How it Came to be Underrated: This is one of the most influential documentaries ever made, but most DVD renters wouldn’t know anything about that. You can still get people to watch ’60s verite classics like Donâ€™t Look Back or Monterey Pop today, but the non-musical verites don’t get watched enough. This was an amazing new way to make documentaries, not based around a subject but around characters, just like a real movie. Though the “verite” movement stressed reality, eschewing voiceover or interviews, the Maysles and Zwerin unashamedly shape their footage into a traditional narrative, with winners and losers and villains and narrative arcs. We aren’t sure that we approve of these guys, but they become very sympathetic in comparison to their cold-blooded, glad-handing boss, who rides them hard and doesn’t want to hear any excuses. In my favorite scene, the boss blithely leads them through a role-play to show how easy it is. As soon as the salesmen get to role-play the reluctant customer, they revel in the chance to humiliate their boss with every baffling refusal they’ve ever heard. He doesn’t appreciate it.
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