Scenes from a Utopia

Sam Bloch, January 25, 2013

Screening The Source Family, the story of LA's infamous and illustrious cult, with documentary co-directors Jodi Wille and Maria Demopoulos and former member Magus the Aquarian

A radical experiment in ’70s utopian living, the outlandish style, popular health food restaurant, rock band, and beautiful women of the Source Family them the darlings of Hollywood’s Sunset Strip. Their outsider ideals and the unconventional behavior of their spiritual leader, Father Yod, caused controversy with local authorities. They fled to Hawaii, leading to their dramatic demise.

On Friday afternoon in the Ruskin Theatre, across the street from the bustling Barker Hangar, Jodi Wille, co-director of a documentary also named The Source Family, screened scenes in advance of its national release in April. The scenes on-screen depicted a uniquely LA vibe, a "high hedonistic style" that made a genuine religion of sex, drugs and rock and roll, particularly in the shots of their home in a Los Feliz mansion once owned by Harry Chandler. In one still image, as the family band supplies the grooves for a closed circle be-in, dozens of Source family members hang out of the windows, their big smiles framed by dazzling long hair. Interviewees recall the members who dropped in and then disappeared without notice: Bud Cort, Sky Saxon, Tom Bradley’s niece, André Previn’s daughter.

"I viewed my time in The Source Family the way some of you might view your adolescence," recalled Jim Trattner, formerly known as Magus the Aquarian, during a Q&A with Wille. After leaving the cult, Trattner started a successful Silicon Valley tech company, which he eventually sold for $70 million. That’s evidence, Wille suggested, that the Source was a different animal from Jonestown or any of the infamous millenialist cults — that theirs was a creative incubator, perhaps like one of today’s start-ups, where young people pour their lives and income into a shared, communal passion. Or at the very least a gonzo performance, where a dozen good-looking stand-ins for Hollywood Jesus traipse around Los Angeles in their robes, preaching the beauty of health food to the unconverted of the Sunset Strip. This world was not secluded and hermetic — it was theatrical.

Wille has been working for six years with Isis Aquarian and the Source Family archive, a massive collection of photographs, family home movies, scrapbooks, music, field recordings and other ephemera, which comprises and unparalleled historical archive of a wildly creative cult commune and their prolific creative output.

The documentary provides an intimate, insiders’ view at this incredible group of people through their own archival photos, home movies, audio recordings, and contemporary interviews with members of the family. Serving as a highly personal, insider’s guide to the counter-culture movement of the early 70’s, the film is inspired by the cult-classic book The Source: The Story of Father Yod, Ya Ho Wa 13, and The Source Family (Process Media) which was written by Isis Aquarian and Electricity Aquarian and edited by Wille. This talk was presented by PARIS, LA magazine.

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