What would you do if you started a multimillion-dollar company almost by accident? More importantly, how would you be?
Jody Shapiro’s documentary Burt’s Buzz, his third as director, shows one man’s response to those conditions, following Burt Shavitz, the heavily whiskered face of personal care company Burt’s Bees.
Now approaching 80, Shavitz lives in much the same way he did before founding his company, except that his image is now an internationally recognized logo, and he has the resources to travel and employ a full-time assistant. There’s much more footage of Burt than his bees — for insight into the role of bees in industrial agriculture, you’d do better with Markus Imhoof’s 2012 doc More Than Honey — but Shavitz actually is the guy that logo purports him to be.
He’s a mercurial soul who’s lived the better part of his adult life on an isolated farm in Maine, and on camera, he can be both entertaining and alienating. Still, Shapiro seems far more invested than his subject in telling the story, which sometimes makes the film feel a bit underhanded, particularly regarding Burt’s Bees co-founder Roxanne Quimby, who forced Shavitz out of the company in 1993 and subsequently sold it to Clorox.
Shavitz is cagey on the subject, as he is in most interactions that aren’t with his beloved golden retriever, Pasha; getting him to describe his feelings requires some gentle needling from his assistant.
Still, when Burt’s Buzz stops cross-examining its subject, it can be fascinating: When a cadre of screaming fans in fake beards and bee costumes greet Burt at a Taiwan airport, it’s impossible not to marvel at his strange existence.