If you hate hippies, THE SOURCE FAMILY isn’t going to change your mind. But it might make you feel sorry for them.
Feel sorry, anyway, for all the 16-year-old girls with daddy issues who wander into a health-food restaurant looking for like-minded friends and end up pregnant with the love child of a guru more than three times their age.
The narrative arc of THE SOURCE FAMILY will be familiar to the casual student of hippie-dippie doomsday groups or cult psychology generally– meditation classes at The Source, a trendy Sunset Strip health food restaurant, eventually led to the establishment of a commune. Fast-forward a few years and their leader, Father Yod, proclaimed himself a living god and took 13 of his “Family”s most beautiful, nubile underage women as his “wives.” From there, it’s all the paranoia, guns, drugs, death, and aborted plans for a hippie Eden in Hawaii you might expect. (Although I will say I didn’t see Father Yod’s dramatic and bizarre end coming. Seriously, it’s weird.) The style of the movie, a combination of talking-heads interviews and Source footage (har har), is similarly conventional.
But there are a couple things about THE SOURCE FAMILY that make it stand out. On the lighter side, there are the 65 nutty deep psych albums produced by the Family’s house band. One of the most mind-blowing scenes consists of footage from a 1973 concert at Beverly Hills High School (no rock club would book the kooky cult band, but for some reason a public school would). Father Yod, seated on a platform, intones for the students to join the Family while his bearded, robe-clad acolytes assault their instruments behind him. You’d think that the kids would really dig this counterculture incursion into their square school environment, but you can always rely on teenagers to hate anything mandatory. So rather than groove on the music, they just sit there with their arms crossed and their eyes rolled, bored out of their minds. It’s hilarious.
The distributor of THE SOURCE FAMILY, Drag City (the record label/film distro who also brought you TRASH HUMPERS), is playing up the musical angle of the movie. And they should– the Source’s albums are beloved and highly sought after by fans of psychedelic music. But the thing I found the most compelling about THE SOURCE FAMILY has much darker implications.
The interviews focus on the women in the group and their experiences, which means there’s a lot of discussion of a criminally under-discussed aspect of the hippie movement: in practice, “free love” meant that a truly down chick (to use the parlance) could never say “no”. At one point, former member Elektra Aquarian describes being called into Father Yod’s bedroom, where her husband and another male member of the group were waiting for her. “You are with him now,” Father Yod instructed her, gesturing towards the other man.
All this “free love” (free for the men, anyway) resulted in more than 50 children being born into the cult during The Family’s brief but heady heyday in the early ‘70s, the one subject that I wish THE SOURCE FAMILY would have explored more fully.
Both directors of THE SOURCE FAMILY, Maria Demopoulos, and Jodi Wille, are female, which probably influenced its feminist angle. But THE SOURCE FAMILY is rich with original footage, audio and photographs thanks to the participation of true believer and official Family historian Isis Aquarian, who has devoted her life to preserving the Source’s legacy. Isis is the real leader and embodiment of the Aquarian ideal, not a middle-aged man with a violent past, an interest in health food, and more charisma than he knew what to do with.
– KATIE RIFE
Katie is the founding member of the found-footage video collective Everything is Terrible (click here to follow the site) and regularly presents midnight movies at Facets Cinematheque in Chicago. She is also the author of of the book IF YOU LIKE QUENTIN TARANTINO, now available to purchase.
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