Review:  ‘Burt’s Buzz’: the real character behind the Burt’s Bees image

Burt Shavitz and his vintage motorcycle in a scene from the documentary "Burt's Buzz."
(Brian Jackson / Film Buff)

Betty Crocker and Aunt Jemima were packaging trademarks, not people. But a certain hirsute fellow in an engineer’s cap, the one whose enigmatic kisser graces the Burt’s Bees logo, is, it turns out, the real deal. And he’s more of a character than any marketing guru could invent.

Burt Shavitz, cofounder of an enduring success story in the field of natural body-care products, takes center stage with characteristic reluctance in the documentary “Burt’s Buzz.” In engaging but not always satisfying fashion, Jody Shapiro’s film reveals the man behind the logo to be a taciturn, plain-living refugee from city life and an unlikely globe-trotting corporate spokesman, his onetime honey enterprise now a subsidiary of Clorox.

The film pushes against Shavitz’s reticence, exploring the matter of bad blood between him and former business partner Roxanne Quimby. At its best, “Burt’s Buzz” observes the inscrutable, reticent Shavitz rather than trying to draw him out with leading questions or filling in the blanks with barely informative third-party interviews.

Boardroom drama aside, the most intriguing revelation is that Shavitz was a talented photojournalist before he found his calling as a beekeeper. Although he had long preferred nature and solitude to social interaction, his pictures are the work of someone immersed in the current of 1960s New York. Today, living in homey clutter with his beloved dogs, he believes that “a good day is when no one shows up and you don’t have to go anywhere.”


But go he does, maintaining his role as the face of the brand. Shapiro captures his promotional trip to Taiwan in all its surreal hellos and touchingly awkward goodbyes.


“Burt’s Buzz.”

MPAA rating: None.

Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes.

Playing: At Laemmle’s Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills. Also on VOD.