The Source Family, opening tonight at The Belcourt, has the makings of a cult sensation — in more ways than one. Even before we saw the jaw-dropping trailer above, Sean L. Maloney's review in this week's Scene had us making "Fandango" our new mantra:
Bearded dudes, long-haired chicks, yoga, health food, loud guitars, plenty of dope — you'd be forgiven for thinking The Source Family is a documentary about East Nashville. But this is a different moment in youth culture, a moment when the American mystic tradition collided head on with Eastern religions and the hedonist gospel of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. This is a moment when a postmodern pastiche of spirituality was the vanguard rather than the norm, when square modes of thought were being shucked off, when American youth culture briefly looked like it was going to radicalize the mainstream. This is the moment that Maria Demopoulous and Jodi Wille's amazing account preserves, from early innocence to eventual corruption.
Cinephiles will immediately recognize The Source, the iconic Sunset Strip health food restaurant that served as both headquarters and primary income source for Father Yod (government name: Jim Baker) and his followers. The Source was a Swinging '60s Hollywood hot spot that morphed into a reliable hippie joke for the wiseguy '70s — think Woody Allen's "plate of mashed yeast" in Annie Hall, or the waitress who "auditions" for Ben Gazzara in John Cassavetes' The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. Its founders, The Source Family, were the quintessential hippie cult, archetypal New Agers whose pursuit of enlightenment was both easily mocked and enviously naïve — the optimistic far extreme of the peace-and-love spectrum.
Compiled from the extensive photo, film and audio collection of Family archivist Isis the Aquarian — including you-gotta-hear-this recordings of Ya Ho Wa 13, the Family's legendary free-psych house band — The Source Family balances nostalgia and skepticism, looking back at an idealistic time with affection but an honest eye for the darkness that bubbles under the surface of any would-be utopia. The epic story the movie tells is of Boomers lost in the wilderness, wandering postwar America looking for answers that couldn't be found in the traditions of Western society. It was a time of upheaval, and The Source Family captures the humanity, the conflict and confusion, that pushes lost souls to embrace the machinations of a self-anointed prophet — in this case, a former "America's strongest boy," judo champion and confessed killer. ...
Was there any local analogue to The Source Family? Murfreesboro has the legend of the enlightened visitors who sought to buy the grubby Davis Food Mart near MTSU because they claimed it was the geographical dead center of the universe.