Sunday, November 14, 2010

Dr. Bronner's Magic Soapbox

Well, It’s been a while since I last wrote. In the interim I’ve watched a lot of DVD offerings, some good, some bad, some really bad. But every now and again there was a film that coaxed a smile, sparked a tear, or got me to thinking about someone, some place or something I had never thought about before.

Dr. Bronner's Magic Soapbox is an imperfect but often fascinating documentary. It’s a film about—of all things—a family-owned-and-operated soap company. The story is unique, the people are interesting, and the product (Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap) is a natural. I know, because despite its flaws, the film peeked my interest to the point where I actually went out and bought a bar.

Unfortunately, the film itself is very uneven, often transgressing from its subject matter for no apparent reason. I suspect the filmmaker used these fillers to compensate for a lack of archival footage, filing in the gaps with a little of this, and much-too-much of that. As a result, the film is a bit like one of those old-time frozen "TV dinners", with too much stuffing and not enough meat.

That said, if you can overlook or fast-forward through those ill-placed sequences, I think you’ll find this odd little documentary to be well worth your while.

It's the story of Dr. Emmanuel Bronner who, like his father before him, was a master soap maker and chemist. Unlike his father, he was—how can I put this? —a bit unstable. But boy oh boy, could he make soap. Castile soap. One-size-fits-all and does-just-about-everything soap.

Fans of the stuff say they use it to bathe themselves, shampoo their hair, brush their teeth, sanitize their kitchen counters, mop their floors and wash their dog. From vegans to world-peace activists, Dr. Bonner’s Castile Soap is beloved by many, not only for its versatility, but the message carved into each and every bar. And what would that be?

All-One. That’s it. That’s all. That’s enough.

The film examines the origin of Bronner's mantra, which turns out to be an abbreviated version of All-One-God-Faith, and fills us in on the life and times of this eccentric (to-say-the-least) individual. While the self-proclaimed doctor claimed to have escaped from a concentration camp during the Holocaust, it appears he had emigrated to states long before the war. In truth, he had escaped—not from a prison camp, but an Illinois mental hospital, where he was being treated for manic depression.

In brief—but insightful clips, we see Bronner lecturing to anyone who will listen about his all-encompassing, All-One philosophy. It was a passion that would quickly overtake his life, leading him to virtually abandon his children. Bronner’s son Ralph notes that his dad’s response to any such accusations was simply, “What’s more important – uniting spaceship earth or raising your own family?”

While any ill feelings may be hiding behind Ralph’s soft-spoken and genuinely kind manner, he has chosen to continue promoting the virtues of the soap and a peaceful existence. At seventy, he is the face of the family business, traveling the country, and giving away free bars of soap and hundreds of dollars at a time to unsuspecting but grateful strangers. A born promoter, he stands on his virtual soapbox, renting local theaters for an evening or two, in order to put on his free, one-man-show about what else, but Dr. Bronner's Magic soap.

Back at the factory, Bronner promotes peaceful co-existence in a very real way, purchasing olive oil (a key ingredient in his soap) from farmers on both sides of the Israeli/Palestinian border.

It's a start.

Dr. Bronner's Magic Soapbox is loaded with interesting, thought-provoking stuff—if you don't mind a little stuffing. Who knows, it just might inspire you to buy a bar, lather up and save the world.


  1. Welcome back Jaine! I have always had a bottle of Dr. Bronners soap in my toolbox. Never tried it as a mouthwash. Yech!
    This film sounds very interesting. I love documentaries. BTW,if you happen to have an opportunity to see a new documentary film called "Windfall", my niece helped produce it.

  2. Thanks! It is now in my queue. I have used his soap.
    I am watching an old BBC production, House of Elliott. I also recently watched, My Brilliant Career. I like to go back for some old favorites