Taggart Siegel’s Queen of the Sun is honey pornography with an activist heart. In order to raise awareness to the unsexily named “Colony Collapse Disorder,” or the vanishing-of-bees syndrome, Siegel vies for the stunning visual qualities of his muse. Yes, we care that the mechanization of beekeeping, monoculture, and the productivity-at-any-cost mentality of the pesticide industry has caused bees to withdraw from their very important job as the legs of plants. But it’s the gooey texture of honey pouring down from a spoon against a black backdrop that makes this documentary a delightful experience. The fetishization of the honeycomb (the skeleton of the beehive, a womb for all of the babies, “a place where nectar is processed into honey in darkness,” we learn), along with the impeccable harmony and precision of the labor of bees, is matched only by the poetic-philosophical rhetoric of some of the film’s talking heads.
Rooftop beekeepers, migratory beekeepers, and biodynamic beekeepers all share an astonishing reverence to their work. Beekeeping appears as an art, an ethics, a religion. At least one beekeeper believes they are “chosen” by the bees, while he rubs his beard against a honeycomb, as if petting a comely dog or a child. It’s quite remarkable that these beekeepers, featured from all over the world (from the Bronx to New Zealand) seem to be immune to the sting of bees, sometimes allowing themselves to have their bodies completely blanketed by them. It’s also incredible that they all seem to have spent so much of their time not only practicing their work, but studying and reflecting about the meaning of what they do (did you know Tutankhamen’s tomb had 2,000-year-old honey that was still edible?), both in terms of self-sufficient beauty (poetry for poetry’s sake) and in the larger context as guarantors of the survival of the species.
This unlikely theme for a documentary proves to hold much more potential for discussion than one would expect. In fact, too many for the film to tackle thoroughly, which makes one wish Queen of the Sun would devote even more of its images to just observing honey dripping into a bowl and bees’ hysteric diligence at work. As much as we need to know that “industrial farming is based on chemicals that came from warfare” and that all workers in a bee colony are females who give up their sexuality for “the totality of a larger project” instead of producing offspring (an unfair heterosexist assumption the film could do without), it’s when the film wows us with its objects of study at work that it creates a sensual awareness of our primary relationship with the bees.