None of our beeswax: 'Burt's Buzz' is a film portrait of an iconoclast

  • Article by: ROB NELSON , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 13, 2014 - 3:13 PM

Documentary about Burt's Bees co-founder doesn't attempt to sweeten its acerbic subject.

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Burt Shavitz in “Burt’s Bees”

Photo: JUDY SHAPIRO • FilmBuff,

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Fifteen years ago, the Sundance-feted “Ulee’s Gold” brought fortune to Peter Fonda. At age 57, the former easy rider earned an Oscar nod for his role as Ulee Jackson, a beekeeping businessman siphoning moola from Tupelo honey while protecting his teenage granddaughter (Jessica Biel) from premarital pollination.

Available for free via Redbox Instant (with a one-month trial subscription), a digital stream of “Ulee’s Gold” might make a valuable Father’s Day gift to an old-fashioned dad, particularly as unopened DVDs of the pic fetch $59 on Amazon.

Even better, the film could provide a segue to the streaming of “Burt’s Buzz,” a superior portrait of a beekeeper who, unlike Ulee, has continued to wave his hippie freak-flag high in his later years.

Last week, “Burt’s” was the buzz at Trylon Microcinema in Minneapolis, which hosted four screenings of the documentary about Burt’s Bees co-founder Burt Shavitz; this week, it’s available for rent on a variety of platforms, including YouTube. The film is fascinating for portraying Shavitz as an elder purveyor of anti-corporate attitude, a lifelong iconoclast whose unceremonious dismissal from his own company in the go-go ’90s made him poorer in dollars but richer in reputation.

Directed by Jody Shapiro, the doc proves admirably unafraid of the complicating detail, making clear that its poster boy for political correctness got booted by former partner Roxanne Quimby (net worth: $350 million) for flying too close to an employee’s hive, so to speak. In 88 minutes, the movie rarely seeks to resolve the contradictions in its subject’s character.

Continuing to sport Shavitz’s peaceful, white-bearded visage on its “Earth-friendly natural personal care” products, Burt’s Bees is currently owned by Clorox. However, proceeds from the streaming of “Burt’s Buzz,” distributed by the upstart FilmBuff, still register as a vote for indie autonomy.

Also notable on VOD

Every dad is different, though we might suppose that some of them favor films about sex, sports, serial killers and, of course, flying elephants. In other words, the perfect Father’s Day movie for your pops (or yourself) could well be “My Own Private Idaho” or “Your Friends & Neighbors,” “Raging Bull” or “Slap Shot,” “Zodiac” or “Dumbo. (All of these are available for streaming via iTunes and Amazon Instant Video.)

Or perhaps the ideal dad movie is the one that addresses what the vast majority of fathers have in common. Devoted to displaying, er, male genitalia, the Icelandic Phallological Museum is the subject of “The Final Member, a documentary now available for purchase on Amazon and iTunes, and for rent at those sites starting Tuesday. Sized at a mere 72 minutes, “Member” is nonetheless impressive as it follows one Sigurður “Siggi” Hjartarson in his mammoth efforts to complete the museum’s phallus collection by including a human sample. Dad will love it!

Also worth mention in this month of LGBTQ Pride is Fandor’s batch of 130-odd queer-themed films, a select few of which the Frisco-based streaming outfit is spotlighting throughout June. Such highlights include Marlon Riggs’ radical documentary classic “Tongues Untied” (1989), heretofore impossible to stream online, and Wong Kar-wai’s always-seductive “Happy Together” (1997), with Tony Leung and the late Leslie Cheung.

In addition, Fandor sports two docs about the ’69 riots in Greenwich Village that helped inspire Pride. “Before Stonewall” (1984), by Robert Rosenberg and Greta Schiller, examines the historical context of the landmark event, while John Scagliotti’s “After Stonewall” (1999) — narrated by Melissa Etheridge, who’ll headline Target Field’s Skyline Music Festival Aug. 9 — celebrates the 30 years of gay liberation activism that followed.

  • TOP 10 MOVIES ON DEMAND

    1 “The Monuments Men”

    2 “3 Days to Kill”

    3 “Endless Love”

    4 “About Last Night”

    5 “Frozen”

    6 “Pompeii”

    7 “That Awkward Moment”

    8 “Ride Along”

    9 “I, Frankenstein”

    10 “Her”

    Source: Rentrak Corp. (May 26-June 1)

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