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Country: United States
Featuring: Joan Baez, Sean Penn, Christopher Hitchens, Tom Hayden, Pete Seeger, Billy Bragg, Jello Biafra
Director: Kenneth Bowser
Run time: 97 minutes
DVD distributor: First Run Features
Out July 19th from First Run Features, Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune is a remarkable portrait of one of the lesser-known superstars of 60s folk music.
Phil Ochs was a fascinating figure in the world of music. A contemporary of Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger and Joan Baez, he was an influential figure in protest music, (specifically against the Vietnam war), but also a myriad of other subjects. He called his music “topical music”, ripping his subjects straight out of the headlines of the newspapers of the day. He was very much America’s Stompin Tom that way – what’s the news today? Okay, here’s a song!
He recorded some amazing songs in his twenties, including one of my all time favourites, “I Ain’t Marching Any More”. Then he spiraled downward thanks to mental problems and alcohol abuse before dying tragically at the age of 35.
There But For Fortune is a very compelling, very complete look at the short life and great works of one of the forgotten folk singers of the 60s. Friends, family and contemporaries of Ochs pay tribute to him through music and their memories. The documentary features appearances by his wife and daughter, his friends and fellow folk singers, and contemporary figures like Sean Penn, Joan Baez, Billy Bragg, Jello Biafra and Christopher Hitchens. They talk about his music, his career, his activism and the sad end to all of that.
Pete Seeger is in the movie too, talking about his old friend, and it makes me wonder what could have been, had Ochs lived into his 90s the way Seeger has. Of course, this documentary reminds me a lot of the great Seeger documentary The Power Of Song. There But For Fortune is a little more compelling because of the tragic end of Phil Ochs, but Seeger is still alive, still writing and singing and protesting in his 90s. It’s a real pity Phil Ochs isn’t doing the same.