The Source Family: Review Of Film Documentary About Charismatic 60s Hippie CommuneThe Source Family

Documentary film

Drag City Film Distribution announces the forthcoming May 2013 theatrical run of THE SOURCE FAMILY (previously titled THE SOURCE), the feature length documentary directed by Maria Demopoulos and Jodi Wille about Father Yod and The Source Family’s radical experiment in ‘70s utopian living. The Source Family’s outlandish lifestyle, popular celebrity hangout restaurant, rock band, and beautiful women made them the darlings of Hollywood’s Sunset Strip; but their outsider ideals and controversial spiritual leader, Father Yod, instigated local authorities. Yod was a visionary health food restaurateur, war hero, and judo champion who had thirteen wives and fronted the now legendary psych band Ya Ho Wa 13. The family fled to Hawaii, leading to their dramatic demise. Years later, family members surface and the rock band reforms, revealing how the experience shaped their lives in the most unexpected ways.

 

These personal accounts, along with interviews with outsiders, make up the interviews in the film. However, the story is largely cinematic, expressed through the use of the group’s extensive film and audio archive maintained by Isis Aquarian, one of Father’s wives and a central character in the documentary (as well as being associate producer). The film’s soundtrack is composed entirely of original Source Family music produced from 1971-1975. This treasure trove of interviews and never-before-seen home movies, photographs, and original music provides an unparalleled insider’s view into the cult/commune phenomenon and wildly outside-the-box social experimentation of the early ‘70s—as well as a being a wholly unique California story.

The sixties was full of experiments, full of gentle madness and full of inspirational, alternative counter culture thinking. In these relatively straight laced modern times the experiments seem far flung and quite esoteric but there are moments of beauty and madness that may seem odd to many people’s conventional modern lives but have a rare idealism about them.

The Source Family is the about to be released documentary on the Yahowa family and is perhaps the perfect example of sixties counter culture thinking. Built around the charismatic, shamanic figure of the grey bearded Father Yod (real name Jim Baker, born Cincinnati in 1922) the family dressed in white and did their own take on the drugs and eastern mysticism of the time. Baker was a man who looked like a father Christmas on acid and the tribe were dressed in white and shared a tightly cramped mansion in pursuit of what seems like several goals at once but for a few years made it work. They were one of the many experiments in communal living that took on varying shades at the time and beyond from the demonic like Charles Manson to communes in Seattle that still exist from the sixties to Christina in Copenhagen that somehow just about defies the Danish government to even the Crass house in the UK.

In classic sixties style they documented everything and the whirring of cameras perfectly captures another world where tall men with beards could be gurus and the world was seeking an alternative solution to the eternal woe.

The good father had already led a colourful life- a decorated US world war 2 marine he was a six foot plus jujitsu expert and seeker of alternative lifestyles who found vegetarianism through an interest in the Nature Boys- a back to the earth mid twentieth century mini movement who in turn had been influenced by German thinkers of the late nineteenth century.

The Nature Boys had come to prominence in 1947 with Nat King Coles hit Nature Boy.

The record set off a brief journalistic frenzy in 1948 over its hitherto unknown lyricist Eden Ahbez, who had long hair and a beard, dressed in a robe and sandals, ate only fruits and nuts, had given himself a Book of Genesis first name and cosmic A-to-Z last name, and lived in a tent under the first “L” in the “Hollywood” sign.

In other words, years before the word was coined in the 1960s, this guy was a hippie. He and the dozen or so other robe-wearing proto-hippies who hung around a German couple’s health-food store in Laurel Canyon called themselves “Nature Boys.” Hence the song’s odd title.

Jim Baker had been listening and had opened his health food restaurant the Aware Inn in 1957 on Sunset Strip which was one of the first health food restaurants in LA- although it was nowhere near as far out he would later become. Baker insisted in 1959 that he was no extremist and that aimed to serve “well rounded meals, but without the fats, carbohydrates and adulterants that you get in most restaurant food.” There was no sign of the vegetarian angle at that point or the long grey beard.

He became a fringe figure in the celebrity comings and goings of the time with many famous faces sharing his then exotic neo health foods.  He even seemed to have time for a run in with an intruder into his house which saw Baker kill the attacker and charged with manslaughter which he eventually got off on.

It was almost inevitable that he would run across the burgeoning counter culture and got turned onto the far out drugs and youthful hippie chicks. After splitting from wife Elaine in 1969  he opened a new place called the Source which was a now vegetarian raw food health food restaurant.

It was about this time that had then changed from his atheist lifestyle and got a whiff of the oncoming eastern mysticism that was staring to float around the USA.

Baker was  influenced by Sikh spiritualist teacher Yogi Bhajan, from whom he learned Kundalini Yoga and then an interest in the occult  when his then second wife Elaine discovering The Secret Teachings of All Ages by occultist Manly P. Hall. This was the starting point for Baker’s long and strange trip for the many strands of mysticism and arcane philosophies.

Adding all this together and you have the perfect guru waiting to happen and he began to build up a band of followers, moving them all into a mansion where they would mediate, getting mildly stoned and living the beautiful life.

In the middle of this some of the followers put together a house band called the Yahowa 13 who recorded 65 albums of varying quality but with some really genius moments of pure psychedelia in there- they are some of the most collectible albums in trips history and the music stands out today as a portal into a very different time. The father would join in on pounding percussion and occasional bellowing vocals and the transcendental guitars were all drones and beatific lines- seek them out there are some really magical moments in there.

 

Life in the house was far from party time- they worked at their high, starting at 4 in the morning with dip in freezing cold water, followed by push-ups on fingertips which the father had learned from fitness guru Jack Lalane and followed by yogic exercises and meditation. Drug use was mainly limited to a single 6-second inhalation of marijuana each morning to get a stoned glow. Eating raw food and having sex without orgasm (although with several babies born in the commune it seems some members were cheating at this) the members lived in a state of hyper reality that was so successful that to this day they seem to glow.

Especially the father with his 14 wives and his big white car and that kind of stuff that comes with guru territory but his powerful presence still looms strong over his followers who enthuse over his positive power to this day.

Of course all good things come to an end and after moving house across LA they then moved on to Hawaii with Sky Saxon from the Seeds joining as a late arrival to the family where the locals were not so welcoming and made their existence more uncomfortable.

In 1975 Father Yod died in a hang gliding accident that could have been by accident or by design. After jumping off a 1300 foot high cliff he crashed to ground and broke his back, as he lay there dying with a beatific smile on his face his personal alterative lifestyle evaporated but his members scattered carrying his dream for ever and to this day are unyielding in their glowing positivity as they talk about the great guru who may have had many human flaws but at least offered something truly alternative whilst surrounded by a sea of mundanity which this documentary captures.

If you can’t make a good film out of this life story then you truly are hopeless and the fascinating and thrilling world of counter culture gymnastics and esoteric spiritual trips and free sex combine for a great story that is still not truly over with the Yahowa 13 band still playing the odd (very odd) gig and the members still glowing with the power and positivity of those brief years of the late sixties and early seventies when they experimented and found some sort answer to the many questions of life.

 

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