For that segment of America currently worshipping at the altar of quirkiness (high priest: Napoleon Dynamite), Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soapbox
is your documentary. It tells the tale of sweet, mad Dr. Emanuel Bronner, a seventh-generation German-Jewish soapmaker who, after escaping the Nazis as a young man (his father and mother would die in Buchenwald), moved to America, where he started a soap-making factory, anointed himself a “rabbi,” and developed a personal philosophy based around the motto “ALL-ONE-FAITH in ONE-GOD-STATE.” He was determined to “unite Spaceship Earth,” even if that meant abandoning his children to orphanages while he preached the gospel on rooftops and wrote ranting letters to General Eisenhower. Eventually institutionalized in what he referred to as a concentration camp (really an insane asylum in Illinois), Bronner escaped once again and invented the “magic” product that would change his family’s life: a gentle, peppermint-infused castile soap that can be used (allegedly) for anything from tooth-brushing to enema-giving. Although the segments featuring Bronner’s son Ralph veer uncomfortably toward hagiography, first-time director Sara Lamm balances out the love-fest by exploring the dark side of being a soap-hawking prophet and the toll that ALL-ONE-FAITH took on Bronner’s family.