Time Out – Chicago

time out chicago

Time Out Chicago / Issue 121: June 21–27, 2007

Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap Box
Dir. Sara Lamm. 2006. N/R. 88mins. Documentary.
-4 stars-

Ask anyone with a prophet for a father: There are crappy dads and then there are dads on a mission from God. The surviving adult children of Dr. Emanuel H. Bronner, immigrant soap maker and evangelist of world peace, tell you all about it in this quirky and touching tragicomic doc.

Born to a family of German-Jewish soap makers, Bronner immigrated to America in 1929, thus surviving the Holocaust that consumed all his kin. Alone in the new world, Bronner resumed soap making on a cottage-industry basis while developing a mystical doctrine he called “the Moral ABCs,” the garbled precepts of which decorated the labels of his liquid soaps in dense, tiny print (“Only if constructive-selfish I work hard perfecting first me, like Mark Spitz-arctic owls-penguin-pilot-cat-swallow-beaver, bee, can I teach the MORAL ABC’S”).

Popular among countercultural consumers, Bronner’s soaps might not have been so warmly embraced by hippies and hipsters had they known what a monster Bronner was to his children, whose welfare he dismissed as trivial compared to his mission to unite “Spaceship Planet Earth.” There’s a quasi-happy ending to the tale in that the little Bronners who survived Dickensian deprivation grew up to be decent (if palpably damaged) people who are perpetuating only the good aspects of the multimillion-dollar business the old crank left behind when he finally shut

The soap, incidentally, is excellent. We recommend Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint. (Sun and Tue only; Gene Siskel Film Center.)—Cliff Doerksen

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