Directed by Maria Demopoulos, Jodi Wille. STC. 91 min. Screens Oct. 3 and 4 at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.
Southern California in the early 1970s wasn’t exactly lacking in unconventional communities full of longhaired youngsters who clustered around a charismatic spiritual leader with dubious credentials. Even so, the Source Family had two things that set them apart from the rest of their robe-wearing brethren. One was a popular health food restaurant on the Sunset Strip that attracted the stars of the day (Steve McQueen was big on the salads). The other was a bent for musical expression that yielded some of the era’s most gloriously whacked-out psychedelic rock.
These wild sounds provide the score for The Source, an engrossing new history of the cult that opens Doc Soup’s fall season. Unsurprisingly, the figure at the centre of Maria Demopoulos and Jodi Wille’s documentary is the restaurateur and ex-con known as Jim Baker, that is until a series of acid trips inspired him to assume a more mystical identity. As Father Yod and then Ya Ho Wha, he led a group of approximately 140 young seekers eager to attain their own status as “god men.” Hassled by authorities and neighbours who worried that Father Yod was the next Manson, the Source Family eventually left Los Angeles to face even tougher times in Hawaii. By then, the group was already being affected by internal pressures created by Father Yod’s increasingly restrictive ideas about the path of righteousness. (His decision to take 13 wives, several of them minors, proved controversial as well.) For it all to culminate in a Jonestown-style tragedy was a distinct possibility.
Nevertheless, most former members interviewed here speak of their time in the family in glowing terms. Indeed, the vintage film footage and photos portray it as an unusually cheerful sort
of freak scene. Fans like Billy Corgan also testify to the greatness of the Source Family’s dozens of recordings, which still provide a means of transcendence for those of us who’d rather not
have to share a bathroom with a hundred dirty hippies.