“If a man’s not a success, he’s got no one to blame but himself.”
Variations on that sentiment recur throughout 1968’s Salesman. It’s the myth of American self-determination boiled down to 14 words. Each time it’s repeated, it becomes funnier and more ominous. Filmmakers Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin subtly contradict it simply by depicting the title profession, which was already in decline when the film was shot, and which consisted mainly of secularists or nonpracticing believers trying to sell middle- and working-class Americans religious texts they didn’t want and probably couldn’t afford anyway. Without narration—and with only a handful of onscreen titles, most of them terse and dryly factual—the filmmakers show just how casually materialistic postwar America had become.