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'The Source Family' review: A sip of the Kool-Aid

Matt Pais, @mattpais

RedEye movie critic

June 13, 2013

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**1/2 (out of four)

Far out in subject matter but not style, the documentary “The Source Family” chronicles a rather unusual family—unless you see nothing out of the ordinary about a marriage between Sunflower and Heaven.

Yes, those are people’s names, not an attempted union between a plant and the afterlife.

The family is the cult that formed in 1970s California around Jim Baker, a leader with an almost comically absurd backstory: The six-foot, four-inch spiritual father figure/WWII vet was dubbed “America's strongest boy” at 12, killed at least two guys with his bare hands and participated in somewhere between two and 11 bank robberies. (He also opened some of the country's first natural food restaurants and hung out with Steve McQueen.) That's according to interviews with his former disciples, whose memories of their time under Baker's tutelage never escape the sense that the teachings at least tripled in wisdom due to everyone's brain being at least half-fried by acid.

Director Maria Demopoulos and Jodi Wille depict a lot of stories without much focus or form, confining even the most eyebrow-raising, interesting anecdotes to an “And then this happened” structure. You never really feel like you were there, and neither the film nor most of the interview subjects deliver much analysis of the group. Instead, there are discussions of Baker leading folks in the spontaneous recording of 65 albums of free-flowing psychedelia, and the leader's violation of his own commandment once he decided he wanted to be with as many women as possible.

Perhaps it's not shocking that good intentions turned bad once power and a mind-altering, anti-antibiotics scene took over. Still, even bizarre ramblings deserve recognition when, for whatever reason, they united people looking for something no one else was selling.

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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