Enthusiasts of ’70s subculture will get their smiley face on with “The Source,” which chronicles the short life and rather spectacular demise of a quintessentially Southern California spiritual “family” based around sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll — plus, of course, a charismatic, self-proclaimed guru. The group’s fondness for recording its musical and everyday endeavors lets the story be told primarily through archival materials, with surviving members adding reminiscences. Fascinating though it often is, the lack of outside perspective ultimately makes this more an insular footnote-cum-scrapbook than a resonant reflection of the era. Cable sales are likely, niche theatrical possible.
Jim Baker rode the crest of the wave as many youth, disillusioned with the limited gains of their ’60s political activism, turned toward mysticism, hedonism and other more individual pursuits in the dawning “Me” decade. Baker was no recent college dropout himself: A WWII Marine vet, judo expert and weightlifter, the strapping 6-foot-4 restaurateur was nearing 50 when he began exerting a magnetic pull on Los Angeles’ myriad fulfillment seekers. He’d already walked away from two marriages, been tied to the death of an actress-lover’s husband, overindulged in recreational drugs, raided his own tills too many times, and gotten forced out of his own two successful area eateries, when he decided to clean up his act while opening a third in 1969.
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The Brotherhood of the Source Restaurant on Sunset Boulevard was an instant hit, serving up vegetarian health food to a starry array of New Hollywood hippies. (It was featured in several films excerpted here, including “Annie Hall.”) The eatery attracted a bevy of beauteous young followers happy to bus tables and wash dishes. Soon Baker had dubbed himself “Father Yod,” proclaimed himself a god, and culled “the best from every religion and philosophy” to create his own “spiritual family,” as then 19-year-old wife Robin, aka Mother Ah-Om, puts it.
Often ethereally clad in white robes, the members of this new Source or Aquarian Family left their prior lives (and names) behind, liquidated personal assets, and moved en mass into a rented mansion, until neighbors’ fears roused by the Manson murders got them evicted. They eventually wound up in Hawaii, where the locals were no more welcoming. Amid an increasingly paranoid atmosphere, Baker seemed to grow weary of his role and flock, dissolving both in a 1975 hang-gliding caper one could interpret as a leap of faith or deliberate suicide. The family was soon no more, although many members interviewed here have kept its spirit alive in one way or another.
Colorful aspects include the commune’s experimental psychedelic rock — members built their own studio, recording some 65 albums’ worth of weirdness now prized by collectors — and Baker’s eventual harem of 13 wives, which finally prompted Robin to leave with their child. The infant (one of more than 50 babies home-birthed during the family’s lifespan) was purportedly stillborn, then miraculously brought back to life by the leader, one of many events duly filmed for posterity.
But despite a handful of critical statements by members, plus one concerned sibling and an abandoned fiancee, the docu’s perspective comes to feel too narrow. While the pic doesn’t need to be a muckraking expose, it could have used more input from viewpoints less in thrall (even today) to Father Yod’s charisma. As a result, the initially absorbing progress grows monotonous, with even Baker’s earthly exit less dramatic than it would have been in a more balanced telling.
Assembly is nonetheless pro, with tracks by various Source Family bands (often including Baker as lead singer) extensively soundtracked to amusing effect.