The Source Family: Film Review

The Source Restaurant - H 2012

The Source Restaurant - H 2012

Doc about Seventies LA cult captures its impact if not its core appeal. Limited Theatrical Release begins May 1, 2013

Directors Jodi Wille and Maria Demopoulos explore the inner workings of '70s cult leader Jim Baker and the LA-based sect he named after his famous health food restaurant.

Chronicling the rise and fall of an LA cult without conjuring its appeal, Jodi Wille and Maria Demopoulos's The Source does hold enough anthropological value to please some audiences. Despite lacking the recognition factor and lurid tragedy of a phenomenon like Jonestown, the story should attract viewers on the small screen.

One-time Judo champ and bank robber Jim Baker discovered a great tool for attracting beautiful young followers when he ran one of LA's first health food restaurants, The Source, in the early '70s. Stars flocked to the place, whose staff wore robes and occasionally took open-minded customers upstairs to meet Baker, a six-foot-four, bearded figure who called himself Father Yod.

Yod began teaching meditation classes and eventually brought his family under one roof -- in a house that once belonged to the LA Times's Chandler family. Audio recordings present a self-made guru speaking in faux-Eastern cadences and using informal humor to deliver lessons like "you can do anything you want to, so long as you're kind."

The vibe and operations of the Source Family are recalled in copious present-day interviews with former members, many of whom still embrace their Aquarius-Age values, if not the names Yod gave them. Though they tell of the occasional miracle (a stillborn baby brought to life), they also recount a fairly predictable evolution in which Yod accumulated more and more wives and all teenaged girls were expected to marry. Complaints from neighbors (at one point, 140 Family members lived in a three-bedroom house) prompted an eventual move to Hawaii, where Yod died, perhaps intentionally, while hang-gliding.

The Family recorded music at a furious pace, making at least 65 albums, and The Source seems to believe the music was groundbreaking. Judging from the meandering, sermon-y psychedelia used on the soundtrack, many viewers will disagree. The group's more lasting contribution to pop culture was gustatory -- even if, as clips of Saturday Night Live and Woody Allen here illustrate, their brand of food was easier to mock than to eat.