Thursday, September 11, 2014

Movie Review: Burt's Buzz

Burt’s Buzz
Directed by: Jody Shapiro.

You probably know the face of Burt Shavitz, even if you haven’t heard the name. His face is, after all, on all kinds of products in the Burt`s Bees line of natural skin care and other product, made out of beeswax. Burt`s Buzz is a documentary that wants to go behind the logo, and get to know the man behind it. He was once a talented professional photographer, working for magazines in New York, but he gave that up, moved to upstate New York, and eventually the Maine and starting raising bees – and selling their honey. He meets a woman, and for a while they seem like they may end up getting married. She starts to make other products out of the beeswax, and soon sales start going up, and they expand their operation. Burt would have you believe that he is just a simple man – one who doesn’t want very much out of life, never wanted to become a brand, and doesn’t much care about money or the company that he was eventually forced out of – a move that cost him hundreds of millions of dollars. Much of that is probably true. But watching the movie, I couldn’t help but think that Burt wasn’t telling the entire truth, and he is molding the story to suit the version of himself he wants the world to see. There are holes and cracks in his story – ones that the movie doesn’t seem too interested in exploring. The movie purports to be an examination of Burt – an ornery man who lives like he wants, and says what he wants, and rejects out materialistic culture. That wasn’t the impression that I got from the movie.

The hole in the movie is that Burt’s former partner doesn’t appear in the movie at all, except in snippets from a TV program called “How I Made My Millions”. The parts of the story that we get from Burt feel incomplete, and one-sided, and the movie fails to explore what really happened when the pair split, and she forced him out of the company. Nor does the movie explore the inherent contradiction in Burt, who claims he doesn’t care about the money or the company, but isn’t above going to Target as a spokesman for the brand – or on a longer trip to Taiwan to do the same (I assume he’s now an employed spokesperson for the company, although curiously, the movie doesn’t say). He claims he doesn’t care about money – but late in the movie he tells the woman responsible for his Taiwan trip that he enjoyed it, but he wouldn’t do it for free.

Throughout the movie, I kept thinking that Burt Shavitz was a more complicated person than the movie makes him out to be. Perhaps director Jody Shapiro wanted to make a more complex portrait of the man, but was stymied by Shavitz, who doesn’t seem overly interested in the interviews, and the fact his former partner wasn’t there. I kept thinking that this could be a fascinating documentary if it had pushed harder, and went further, but that as it stands it doesn’t do either. Instead, what we’re left with is a rather shallow portrait of a man who is more complex than the movie shows – and more complex than Shavitz wants to appear to be.

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