SXSW Movie Review: THE SOURCE

Lars reviews the SXSW documentary about the notorious L.A. hippie cult.

SXSW Movie Review: THE SOURCE

Prior to seeing this doc I heard several people talking about it, but I didn't glean from their conversations that the movie is about Father Yod, the leader of an L.A. hippie cult that has become notorious over the years for their excellent and bizarre deep psych records. Once I learned that, this became the most sought after title for me at the fest. I've listened to several of the Yahowha records, which feature some of the most stoned and indulgent playing and chanting ever, and always wondered, "What's their deal?" This movie attempts to answer that question.

As it turns out the man called Father Yod was previously known as Jim Baker; he was a towering man, a veteran of WWII, a hand to hand combat specialist and a generally fearsome figure. He turned the proceeds of a series of bank robberies into a restaurant enterprise. His health food restaurants began to attract some of the early members of the counterculture and soon Baker, with his white beard and philosophical disposition had become not only a hippie, but the head hippie.

Times grew weirder and so did Father Yod, as he was now known. He and his followers moved into a mansion and adopted an idiosyncratic lifestyle in which cannabis and sex were important sacraments. There was trouble with the law and they made the move to Hawaii, where things did not necessarily improve, but you'll need to see the movie to find out all about that.

Fortunately for the filmmakers, the Source cult happened to operate on the Sunset Strip - a number of films used the location and many stars frequented the restaurant that was the home base. Also, the ceremonial music they made, sometimes with celebrated musical collaborators, is a great asset to the film. It's the only music heard throughout. Though there is only a limited amount of contemporaneous footage, there are many, many photographs and sound recordings, which are well deployed along with new narration and interviews to tell the story of The Source family. One of the bits of archival film footage was mind-blowing in the extreme. It shows the family band playing a raging live show at a local high school while Father Yod makes a hard pitch to the teens to join the cult. What high school principal signed off on this?

Baker remains a kind of enigma to us. We see him as a both a charlatan and a sincere man. There is ample testimony to his personal charm and magnetism throughout, but we don't get much of a clear sense of it in the film. One post-film Q&A moment was telling though. The guests at the Q&A were filmmaker Jodi Wille and family members Electricity Aquarian and Isis Aquarian. Isis was adamant that if a narrative film were to be made about their adventures, that George Clooney would be the only actor for the role of Father Yod.

Lars Nilsen's photo About the Author: Lars Nilsen has been a programmer for the Alamo Drafthouse since 2001. He created or co-created the Alamo's Weird Wednesday, Terror Tuesday, Asian Invasion, and Cinema Club series and the Alamo pre-show concept, which he oversaw from 2004-2010. He loves Kung Fu movies, Spaghetti Westerns, loud music and stew.
t