Death of a salesman’s documentarian

My dad was a salesman. He sold groceries to grocery stores and, after an attempt at running his own grocery store failed, he sold insurance.

He was good at it; he was great at it, actually. “The best way not to sell anybody is not to see anybody,” he told me in the early days of my own attempt to follow him into the business, as we drove to his next stop.

“Never say ‘Ho, ho, ho’ when ‘ho, ho’ would do,” he’d advise.

All of that advice was for naught; I hated the salesman life, and when a chance to spin country music records six days a week for $110 a week came, I jumped into the radio business.

But I never lost my amazement at the life of a salesman, especially when it was the returning World War II crowd doing it.

That life was captured poignantly in this 1969 documentary, “The Salesman.”

All of this comes up today because Albert Maysles, the man who made that documentary and several others, has died.

The Hollywood Reporter writes.

“People are people. We’re out to discover what is going on behind the scenes and get as close as we can to what is happening,” he said of their cinematic style. There were often emotional reactions to their films. Fans applauded them for the trust they developed with their subjects, allowing them to reveal long repressed feelings or telling insights. Their style — with their subjects caught by a hand-held camera and a shotgun mike — was in the tradition of such documentarians as Frederick Wiseman.

For our generation, Maysles was probably better known for Gimme Shelter, the documentary of the Rolling Stones’ 1969 tour, which ended in San Francisco when a Hells Angels security guard killed a concert-goer.

Said the Reporter…

Flashbacking from Mick Jagger reviewing their footage, with Altamont’s horrific memory in the recent past, Gimme Shelter punctuated a feeling of dread as the events moved inexorably to the tour’s cataclysmic end. Originally, the “free concert” was planned to happen in the mind-state of San Francisco but logistics soon went askew and it ended up in the Northern California hinterlands, at the Altamont Speedway. Muddled by inadequate planning and the darkness at the fringes of the peace/love zeitgeist, the concert was a ghoulish nightmare with a man getting shot not far from where the Stones performed on stage.

Maysles was 88 when he died on Thursday.