Albert Maysles Stanley Kauffmann - Essay

Stanley Kauffmann

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Much of [Salesman] is fascinating. How could it be otherwise? There isn't a person who passes in the street whose life we wouldn't spy on, at least for a time, if we had the chance. Intrusion into privacy is as human an urge as sex; and it's by no means prurience or itch for scandal that drives us. Somehow some Great Answer may be hidden behind those window shades. If we only knew more about others, we could at least be sure that our own insufficiencies aren't unique. A film that allows us to peek is bound to get our attention; and when, like Salesman, it also fixes irrefutably some facts about our whole society, it holds that attention longer than it might do otherwise. (pp. 151-52)

The picture continues interesting for a good deal of its hour and a half. When it begins to seem repetitious, we forgive it at first because these lives are more incessantly repetitious than most. But this is not life, this is a film; we are not co-workers, we are an audience. Kenneth Burke says: "There is in reality no such general thing as a crescendo." The Maysles brothers are aware of this; so, out of their material, they have quarried the particular story of one of the salesmen, Paul Brennan, and, using the models of fictional narrative, they have tried to give it dramatic structure. But life has not cooperated sufficiently. As drama, the figurative death of this salesman lacks the dimension that it needs to be completely engrossing. There is material missing—of character and conflict and variation—that a good scriptwriter could have supplied; and what we are left with is the consolation that there was no scriptwriter, that what we see is spontaneous and unacted.

Almost completely. In a few scenes it seems that voices from other shots—of these men—have been laid on the sound track. And there are indications of the camera's presence in other scenes. For instance, when Brennan comes back after his first bad day, he uses some profanity (the only time in the film). It has an air of bravado, unnatural for him, as if he knew he were being watched and would not be cowed. Some of the other men glance...

(The entire section is 883 words.)