Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
The Maysles Brothers have made some of the best documentaries ever committed to film, and this is one of their finest achievements. It follows four travelling salesman around the country as they do their best to surpass their quota for pushing ornate Bibles on people who really don’t have the money. The Maysles, as non-judgmental about their subjects as documentary filmmakers can be, give us these men at their best as well as the times when they meet with situations that wear them down or make them want to fall apart. The central figure in the story is an employee of the Mid-American Bible Company who seems to be excelling at his work until he realizes that the job is working against his soul; some of the prospective customers filmed here can barely spare a dollar a week to buy the Bible on a payment plan (admittedly during a time when a dollar went a lot further than it does today, but still), and the process of working against people’s sense of self-preservation in some cases is bound to have its psychological toll on the person inflicting it. Not a film you’ll easily forget.
The Criterion Collection: #122