Come for the alfalfa sprouts; stay for the free love.
DIRECTED BY MARIA DEMOPOULOS AND JODI WILLE
Of Woody Allen’s many potshots at Los Angeles, the most damning might be the break-up scene in Annie Hall, set at a trendy health-food restaurant on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip. “I’ll have the alfalfa sprouts and a plate of mashed yeast,” says Allen’s character, a Manhattanite deli connoisseur, as though raising a white flag before the impenetrable menu from a distant planet. The Source, Maria Demopoulos and Jodi Wille’s absorbing documentary about the New Age cult born of the same restaurant where that scene was shot, might be seen as a feature-length B-side to that joke, as well as an earnest anthropological essay on a rarefied community.
Headed by successful restaurateur and admitted murderer (by judo chop!) Jim Baker—who would later go by Father Yod and Ya Ho Wa—the Source Family was an experiment in 1970s utopian living. The film gathers surviving members to reminisce about Baker’s odd charisma and chutzpah. In present-day interviews, the filmmakers chronicle both the golden age, where the spiritualism was sincere and each man was happily matched to his underage bride, and the dissipated final days, when Baker’s polygamous practices and worsening God complex shook up the family unit and drew unwanted attention from local authorities.
As guided tours through dippy mysticism and debauchery go, The Source is a pretty good time, aided inestimably by the soundtrack, which was sprung from the archives of the Ya Ho Wa 13’s own psychedelic recordings about transcendence and tantric sex. (Big fan and Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan described those recordings as “way heavy.”) The film’s style, marked by talking-head interviews and slow zooms on black-and-white photos, is considerably less heavy. In fact, it’s a fairly conventional approach to an unusual group of subjects. Still, what’s revealed in those interviews, especially from the disgruntled ex-member who once went by Magus, is illuminating. The film does a fine job of showing how the promise of unbridled love can make seemingly dopey figures like Baker so attractive to wayward youth.
This is the opening screening of this year’s Doc Soup season. Demopoulos and Wille will be in attendance.