Movie Journal
J. Hoberman on movies and movie-related things

MOVIE JOURNAL: J. Hoberman on movies and movie-related things

Goin’ to “The Source”: Ex Cult Members Speak

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A documentary case study of Aquarian Age mysticism, “The Source Family” (opening May 1 at the IFC and VOD thereafter) confounds the conventional cult narrative with its “happy ending”—and thereby inspires a bit of boredom.

Father Yod (a/k/a Jim Baker a/k/a God), a onetime judo champ and alleged bank robber, founded a natural foods restaurant on Sunset Boulevard named The Source in 1969 and, before long, parlayed this popular, profitable, and celebrity patronized establishment into a communal “family” with up to 140 members. Baker was 47, more than old enough to have fathered most of his employees cum followers; extravagantly bearded and an imposing six foot four, he took the role with gusto. While the group’s sacraments seem to have been nothing stronger than the “the sacred herb” marijuana, their development follows a familiar trajectory. Baker gave his acolytes new names and tithed the rich ones, dropped his initial child bride to take 13 concubines, founded a rock band, pronounced himself God, announced impending apocalypse and moved the family to Hawaii. Here the story diverges. When things started to go bad, Father Yod jumped off a cliff, and rather than inducing his lemming-like followers to do the same, left them behind to puzzle out the mystery of his existence.

Baker was no Joseph Smith or L. Ron Hubbard but he seems to have been a successful prophet. Thanks in part to sometime Source member Sky Saxon, his band’s self-released LPs became collectible “outsider” rock. Nor can it be denied, at least on the basis of this documentary, that the members of the Source Family were good looking and robust in 1971 and, those survivors interviewed for the movie, remain so. Some are even wealthy. (The only person who appears damaged is Baker’s discarded wife.) Interestingly, most the Source survivors still favor a version of the flowing, vaguely Biblical garb that had been their uniform. Back then it must have felt as though they were living in a Hollywood movie. “The Source Family”, which was directed by Jodi Wille (editor of a book on the SF written by two former members) and Maria Demopoulos (a maker of TV commercials and “integrated media”) is not exactly that, but it will do.

Image: Drag City Film Distribution

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