Antenna Documentary Film Festival: Week 188

Salesman film still by the Maysles Brothers

It’s nighttime at the Pheasant Valley Motor Lodge. A middle aged man with a suit and tie is using the phone when a wide-set man enters the room wearing a fedora and trench coat. The sparse room has a TV, two beds, two pictures, two lamps and two armchairs.

The middle aged man puts down the phone. His short blond hair is cow-licked and slicked back. “How’d ya do Charlie?” He asks.

This setup could play out in a million different ways, but what ensues is a discussion about Bibles. These men travel door to door selling Bibles.

Salesman film still by the Maysles Brothers

In 1968 the Maysles brothers filmed a documentary called Salesman. Not only did they pioneer the art of the documentary, but they also captured a slice of Americana that now only exists in the Criterion Collection.

The documentary begins by following a group of four men as they knock on doors during the middle of winter. The snow is banked high, a car fishtails ahead on the road, and the days are short. A searchlight scans the quiet suburban landscape for an address that might be interested in a gold embossed version of “the best seller in the world.”

From New England to the wide open streets of Miami, these men struggle with new cities and new quotas. The Gipper, The Rabbit, The Badger, and The Bull. In the morning they share breakfast and a cigarette; in the evening they share two motel rooms.

Salesman film still by the Maysles Brothers

In Chicago their fleshy, blond haired boss delivers an encouraging message. The audience sits attentively with poised cigarettes; the women are seated in the back.

Salesman film still by the Maysles Brothers

“Money is being made in the Bible business. It’s a fabulous business. It’s a good business. All I can say to people who aren’t making the money- it’s their fault.

Just keep that in mind. The money’s out there- go out and get it.

I for one am sick and tired of haggling with you people and pleading with you to get you to do what’s good for you. And what’s good for us.

If you see some missing faces here, we eliminated a few men. Not because we were mad at them. Not because we didn’t like them. Not because we didn’t need the few sales that they made. But it’s a question of the sour apple spoiling the barrel.

Salesman film still by the Maysles Brothers

Certain guys have a habit of getting a couple of beers and flying off the howl and badging people around and throwing their weight around.

I want to go on record and I want to tell you all that the next man that gets off base with me- I’m gonna tag him out. The ball game’s over. You got a job to do.”

Of all the documentaries playing at the Antenna Documetary Festival in Sydney, I chose to see Salesman because the Maysles Brothers have such an eye for quirky details.

When I think of being on the road, I think of freedom, blue skies and adventure. However, before the digital age, there were men with pot bellies and mortgages and wives that worried about how fast their husbands drove. Careers were made from the thrill and the dread of knocking on a stranger’s door.

Salesman film still by the Maysles Brothers

“Well you can see how this will be an inspiration in the home.”

The customer is quiet, her child tinkers with the piano keys. “I just couldn’t afford it now… being swamped with medical bills.” At $49.95, the Bible is an inspirational burden.

Salesman film still by the Maysles Brothers

“You won’t run into people like me all the time. You’re gonna have to work haaader.” The Rabbit and The Gipper are seated around a young woman with dark glasses and a nasal accent.

“But you men are doing fine. I like to see men out, you know, doing things on their own. Get away from companies, get away from people over you.”

The salesmen nod their heads. Yes. It’s good to be independent. It’s good to do what you please.

Salesman film still by the Maysles Brothers

About: The Antenna Documentary Film Festival

About: Salesman

Sydney Writers’ Festival: Week 115

Sydney Writers' Festival 2013

Following Gertrude Stein: In this panel discussion with readings, there will be spars with high and low culture, politics, wit and lots of energy.

Ugghh… This was not what I had in mind- being crammed inside a small, hot room overlooking Walsh Bay. Four presenters at the front of the room discussed experimental poetry while the late afternoon sun blinded and burned half the elderly audience.

Despite the sailboats gliding across the sapphire harbor and squawking seagulls swooping in front of the windows, people were somehow still paying attention. I don’t think it was a testament to the quality of the poems, but rather the soporific effects of warm weather.

It was the final day of the Sydney Writers’ Festival- an annual event which covered everything from poetry, workshops, feminism, and Australian fiction to an overview of Barack Obama’s digital campaign. Even Molly Ringwald was there to close the festival with her jazz band and new book When It Happens To You. So how exactly did I manage to pick the single most boring event?

Well, a couple weeks ago I realized that free workshops like So You Want to be a Writer? were already fully booked while the ones that might still have a few spots- Killings Your Darlings, Writing History, Freelance Writing for Magazines– cost  a minimum of $85 to attend.

While not a starving artist, I already had plans for my expendable money so I decided to focus on the less expensive author presentations. Since the first five days of the festival mostly took place during work hours, I was unfortunately limited to the closing weekend.

Festival Highlight: Karl Ove Knausgaard

Karl Ove Knausgaard discusses My Struggle, the six-volume autobiographical novel that intrigued the people of Norway to the extent that some workplaces had to declare “Knausgaard-free days”. By turning a frank and unforgiving eye on his own life- without changing any names- Karl shocked his family and became a media sensation.

One of the most interesting offerings on Sunday and at $14, one of the most sold out.

With an ever-narrowing selection to choose from I finally decided on Tales From the Editorial Front Line. However, because it was a free event without bookings, I found myself at the wrong end of a long queue.

Not wanting to listen to the presentation outdoors by speaker, I hastily jumped ship to follow people interested in other people following Gertrude Stein.

I wonder why the line was so short?

Just as I was leaving the festival totally dejected, I stopped near a group of people gathered around a pair of open windows. Inside was the tail-end of Words Collide, an exhibition of performance poets. Even with my limited view it was clear that the audience was electrified. The crowd stomped their feet in a rolling applause and hung off the balcony cheering.

The good news from the Sydney Writers’ Festival: not all poetry sucks.

The bad news from the Sydney Writers’ Festival: I still don’t know the gentle art of persuasion. Please send me $150 and I will find out next year how to supercharge my prose.

About: The Sydney Writers’ Festival

Photo and Imaging Expo: Week 6

After attending a strobe lighting seminar in Seoul, I realized I needed to take my photography equipment more seriously. This decision led me to Coex, which, aside from being the largest underground shopping mall in Asia, was also hosting the Photo and Imaging Expo. The large multinational companies like Canon and Nikon had the most prominent locations with models languidly posing about constructed sets. Around the women, a predominantly male crowd swarmed and vied for the best shot. While some backdrops were half-hearted fantasy reproductions, others had a decidedly more voyeuristic feel.

As I pushed my way through the hoards of photographers, I began to realize how inadequate my camera was. Where was my telephoto lens? My lighting kits and small step ladders? After a few hours of examining products and contemplating my budget, I had an epiphany. I retraced my route back to a narrow aisle against the side of the convention center and made a very important decision- I upgraded my camera strap.

How to get to Coex:

Green line 2 Samseong Station

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