Remember the new-age LA restaurant at which Woody Allen ordered “the alfalfa sprouts and a plat of mashed yeast” in Annie Hall? The infamous Sunset Strip establishment that served as the setting and inspiration for that scene is torn wide open in the new feature documentary from Jodi Demopoulos and Maria Wille.
The Source restaurant—a wildly popular vegetarian diner visited by everyone from John Lennon to Steve McQueen throughout the 1970s—was opened by entrepreneur, WWII marine and martial arts champion Jim Baker and, at its peak, was turning over more than $10,000 a day. That money allowed Baker—who soon became known as Father Yod or YaHoWha—to fund the apparently ideal lifestyle he lived in a communal mansion in the Hollywood Hills with 140-some other like-minded earth children who became known as The Source Family.
Adopting names like Isis, Electricity, Magus, Sunflower, Om-Ne, Heaven and Galaxy, the family championed meditation and the raw food movement, partook of “the sacred herb” each morning and built a recording studio from which they released (now-highly sought-after) experimental psychedelic records. Above all, though, they surrendered harmoniously to the unexplainable powers that Baker had over them. Their father told them what to do, when to do it, and who to marry. Featuring interviews with a great selection of Source family members, the documentary includes the especially desperate and emotional accounts of Robin Baker, the leader’s first wife who bore his child before being cast aside to accommodate 13 other wives.
As Baker’s power went to his head—as it always does for men in ultimate father-figure positions such as his—his demands of his “children” became more and more outrageous, with many leaving the group to seek out outlawed essentials like medicine or monogamy. Eventually their neighbors—terrified of a repeat of the Manson family murders that occurred just blocks away—drove the family to a smaller house. Without warning, Baker decided to sell the restaurant and ship the family from their new home to Hawaii, where they followed in the footsteps of groups like the Hare Krishnas who had set up camp there much to the chagrin of the frightened and contemptuous locals. It was here that both the family and its leader’s life came to an end, the climactic conclusion of one of the most radical experiments to occur during the era of radical experimentation.
The fascinating story of the family is told through Demopoulos and Wille’s recent interviews and accompanied by the gripping archival photos, video and audio captured by family member Iris (who arrived at the cult while seeking men who looked like Jesus for a photo shoot and was later appointed family historian—a role she is still fulfilling to this day), the film is a funny and frightening look at man’s potential power over himself and anyone who falls victim to it.