Pete's Blog

Two Days in a Row

I expect I'm feeling guilty for having had so little to say and so little time to say it while my computer is on vacation. Anyway, I saw a great film last night and want to express my hope that everybody sees it. It's called "Dr. Bronner's Magic Soapbox" and concerns the family producing that staple of '60s/'70s communitarianism Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Soap. Director Sara Lamm has a lot of visual fun with the tightly printed label that came with every bottle, which preached to the point of ranting on the "Moral ABC," Bronner's formula for human unity and peace. But the story here has moments of dreadful sadness, as well, along with true uplift and inspiration. Emmanuel Bronner, the half-Jewish son of a family of soapmakers, escaped from Nazi Germany but his parents did not, dying with many of their relatives in the Holocaust. Bronner, as the small typefaces and run-on sentences of his label copy would suggest, went from being a crank to full-fledged lunacy as a young man, finally being institutionalized and given shock therapy. His two sons and a daughter grew up in a long succession of orphanages and foster homes. Bronner escaped (you can't make stuff like this up) and went to California, where he began making his organic liquid soap, good for cleaning everything from floors to teeth to pets to the whole human body, leaving behind a refreshing tingle. Eventually the business grew to where he could reunite with his sons (the daughter had died) and they could take over the company. This is where the story gets interesting, because the two boys Ralph and Jim, developed two quite different attitudes towards their father's messiahtry. Jim, a Navy veteran, concentrated on the day-to-day running of the company, showing no interest in what he called "the religious stuff" and eventually dying in the 1980s. The movie shows Ralph, the older brother, as a tireless, fully sane evangelist for his father's Moral ABC, travelling the country giving well-attended lectures and spearheading the company's considerable charitable work while the next generation mix and market the soap. Ralph is as close to a saint as you are going to see in any film, be it fiction or documentary. To see him travelling the world dispensing hugs and sympathy to one random stranger after another becomes a profoundly moving experience, expecially after learning the horrors of his early life. The company, it is said, caps the salaries of its owners and top executives so that nobody makes more than 5 times what the lowest-paid worker gets, and more than 70 per cent of the company's profits are given away.

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