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‘The Source Family’ a gripping look at a ’60s-era cult

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Drag City presents a documentary directed by Maria Demopoulos and Jodi Wille. Running time: 89 minutes. No MPAA rating. Opening Friday at the Music Box.

Updated: July 15, 2013 2:23PM

Over the years there have been numerous in-depth examinations of various American cults on the big and small screens. From the worlds of Jim Jones to the Branch Davidians to Charles Manson, filmmakers have frequently been intrigued by cults and what leads presumably sane — if easily impressionable — people to be attracted to the messianic leaders of these groups.

However, in most cases, documentarians have not had access to the rich source material that directors Maria Demopoulos and Jodi Wille did for their intriguing “The Source Family.”

Since many cults’ practices involve activities or beliefs alien to the mainstream world, their leaders and loyal acolytes do everything they can to distance themselves.While the Source Family commune and its leader Jim Baker (who came to call himself Father Yod, then later Father YaHoWha) did engage in controversial practices such as polygamy, underage marriage and denying medical treatment to members’ ailing children, “The Source Family” filmmakers got access to archival video and still photos, mainly kept by “Isis,” one of the group’s original members.

Equally important were the large number of former commune members who granted interviews to the filmmakers.

Baker/Father Yod looked like and acted the part of the quintessential hippie commune leader of the early 1970s. This charismatic guru had come from a background that included military service in World War II, training as a martial artist and an unhealthy dose of criminal activity, tempered by his discovery of Eastern mysticism and spirituality in Southern California.

An interesting footnote is the revelation that Baker in 1969 launched what many consider Los Angeles’ first organic health food restaurant — called The Source. Frequented by the likes of Marlon Brando and John Lennon, the restaurant even can be seen in Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall.”

Moving forward to 1971, Baker attracted a group of like-minded followers to his commune, which he named after the restaurant. The Source Family members adopted names like “Isis” or “Electricity Aquarian,” all symbolic of the hippie influences of the time.

Yes, there was plenty of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll — and, in fact, the soundtrack for “The Source Family” consists of the commune’s music. (Today, those psychedelic recordings are highly prized by collectors.) Back in the day, when the Source restaurant was open, chart-topping groups like Earth Wind & Fire would come in and shell out $10 to buy albums in the back of the restaurant.

After the group moved to Hawaii in 1974 and Father Yod died in a hang-gliding accident in 1975, The Source disbanded, having lost their spiritual leader who had come to be “married” to 13 female Source members.

Anyone interested in the appeal of cults and the psychological lure of a charismatic leader will appreciate “The Source Family.”

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