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There’s been a recent crop of cult fiction books like Justin Taylor’s The Gospel of Anarchy and Fiona Maazel’s Woke Up Lonely, to Paul Thomas Anderson’s Scientology-influenced movement called “The Cause,” in his 2012 film The Master, that has started popping up. Even though these works undoubtedly deserve your attention, you really can’t beat the real thing, especially when it comes to cults. You get plenty of that with the new documentary The Source Family.

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I became obsessed with Father Yod and the Source Family from the first moment I heard of them — which I guess makes sense since Yod (born James Edward Baker) was without doubt a charismatic leader that people became obsessed with enough to abandon the regular lives they were used to, and live on his spiritual commune throughout the 1970s. It’s difficult to call what Baker created anything other than a cult, and since I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of cults, both real life and fictional ones, I instantly read up as much as I could, tracked down any music that was out there (the family recorded plenty), and eventually wrote a piece about The Source Family (as well as the Mansons and Hasidic Jews) for The Rumpus.

What makes The Source Family so intriguing is that, at first look, they’re nothing like the Manson Family that violently shook the peace and love 1960s to death, and they don’t resemble the fire and brimstone Branch Davidians, or the cosmos-obsessed doomsday cult Heaven’s Gate. Mainly because unlike Manson or David Koresh’s followers, they didn’t kille anybody; and unlike the Heaven’s Gate or the People’s Temple followers of Jim Jones, they didn’t commit mass suicide. The Source Family were, for lack of better terms, sexy and stylish. They were lost souls in Los Angeles that wanted healthy living, easy love, and spiritual enlightenment — and Father Yod was more than happy to take advantage of that. But as you watch The Source Family, you find yourself wondering just how far Yod, a man who literally had dozens of beautiful young women and men worshipping him, could go. The film’s director, Jodi Wille, while obviously interested and intrigued by the Family, seems to feel the same way. The film quickly goes from happy hippies living in the Hollywood Hills, to a feeling that the whole thing probably won’t end well. And that is just one of the things that makes The Source Family one of the must see documentaries of 2013.

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