Albert Maysles himself stopped by Silverdocs this afternoon for a question and answer session following the screening of his classic documentary “Salesman.” As festival director Sky Sitney pointed out before the screening, “Salesman” is the first feature documentary: Mr. Maysles and his brother, David, followed the travails of a team of Bible salesmen, taking an intimate look at their livelihood and a slice of American life rarely seen on the big screen.
The inspiration for a feature length documentary came from Truman Capote, who Mr. Maysles had filmed during the publicity tour of “In Cold Blood” and had himself created a new genre: the nonfiction novel. At one time a door-to-door salesman, Mr. Maysles told the audience that no less an eminence than Norman Mailer had told him that “Salesman” said “more about America than any other movie.” He also said that he stayed in touch with the salesmen after shooting - “We got very close to people,” he said, adding that his ethic is “completely different from Michael Moore, who doesn’t take much care” with his subjects.
Struck by the graininess of the film, I asked Mr. Maysles for his take on the “grainstorm” debate rolling around the movie blogs. “I’m not a grain lover,” he told me. “When I was starting out, I was hoping to use film stock that wasn’t grainy. Some people think when you use video you’re losing grain, but I don’t see that.” When asked about his collaboration with the Criterion Collection on their DVD version of “Salesman,” Mr. Maysles said that he “was surprised at how much grain there was,” and isn’t committed to maintaining the integrity of the grain. “If anything, I want them to tune it down,” he said.
Mr. Maysles will again be answering questions tonight at the Charles Guggenheim Symposium, this time from Entertainment Weekly’s Lisa Schwarzbaum. Beginning at 7 p.m., tickets are still available for the program at the AFI Silver box office.