BURT’S BUZZ (doc, 2014)

burt Greetings again from the darkness. I’ve said it many times – my expectations for documentaries are quite high. Either pick a side (ala Michael Moore) or tell the whole story. Anything less is a let down. That holds true even if your subject is a colorful curmudgeon with what might be an interesting back story.

You are probably familiar with the Burt’s Bees brand of personal care items, and you have probably noticed the bearded guy logo. Yes, that’s the real Burt and director Jody Shapiro introduces us. Admittedly, I got caught up in the Burt show … watching him bounce between his life of seclusion and minimalism in Maine, and the near-rock star status he enjoys on a PR tour of Taiwan. It wasn’t until afterwards that the holes and unanswered questions started piling up.

The Burt Shavitz story traces his initial drop out from a promising photojournalism career in New York to selling jugs of honey from his truck on the side of the road. A chance meeting and initial attraction to single mom Roxanne Quimby brought forced ambition to Burt’s quiet life and the next thing he knew, he was spending his days behind a desk helping run a company.

Burt and Roxanne had a massive fallout after the company relocated to North Carolina and the movie only hints at the real reason. It also leaves open-ended the question of whether Roxanne shrewdly maneuvered the company away from Burt or whether the decision to part ways was mutual.  Whatever the story, she later sold it for almost $1 billion to the Clorox company.

It’s pretty obvious Roxanne refused to participate in the film, and instead sent her son to answer questions. Because of this, the guts of the story are never determined. Instead, we follow Burt around as he fulfills his requirements to the company that he no longer owns. We don’t get any details on his arrangement, who pays for his personal assistant, or what Burt thinks about the business side. Instead he ruminates about the importance of land, and how he lives a life without hot water or hardly any other of life’s modern conveniences. Well, except for when he is staying in 4 star hotels while touring for the company. These contradictions are fascinating, but of course, go unexplored.

Burt doesn’t appear to be a very complex man, and it’s easy to accept his words at face value. He is almost 80 years old and seems to be quite satisfied hanging out with his dog … but he also gets a kick out of the recognition and applause from his promotional tours. With all of the unanswered questions, this would have been better served as an hour long “Biography”.

watch the trailer:



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