Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Source Family

In 1971, Jim Baker (not to be confused with Jim Bakker of PTL/Tammy Faye infamy) was a charismatic L.A. restaurateur who owned the pioneering health-food restaurant The Source on the Sunset Strip, as well as the Aware Inn and the Old World mini-chain. The charismatic Baker looked and sounded like the archetypal God figure and gained a following among the lost, searching souls of the time, eventually developing a God complex, calling himself Father Yod, and installing himself as the patriarch of a 140-member commune called the Source Family that shared a series of large (but still way too small) homes in the hills. 

As captured in the extensive contemporaneous footage shot by Isis Aquarian (Baker gave all members names derived from his wide readings among mystical traditions) and collated by documentarians Maria Demopoulos and Jodie Wille in "The Source Family," the group was no less a cult of personality than Jonestown, albeit one with fewer sociopolitical objectives and, of course, no Flavor-Aid. (Baker took thirteen of the young women as wives, including one or more under the age of consent.) Having unsuccessfully attempted to replicate his original communal experiment in Hawaii, Baker decided one day to try hang-gliding without any lessons or experience. He broke his back and other bones and died a few days later.

The original material in the film consists primarily of talking-heads interviews with remaining Family members, who have gone on to everything from sustenance farming to founding eight-figure software companies to dealing blackjack in Vegas. The soundtrack features many songs performed by Baker and Ya Ho Wha 13, the psychedelic rock band he formed with Family members whose recordings sold for ten bucks apiece at the Source and are now worth several times as much on the collectibles market. But what sticks with you are the earnest, seeking faces of the young people of the time, and as always the heartstring-pulling sight of L.A. in days gone by.

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