From civil rights to the anti-war movement to the struggles of workers, folksinger Phil Ochs wrote topical songs that engaged his audiences in the issues of the 1960s and 70s. In this ...
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From civil rights to the anti-war movement to the struggles of workers, folksinger Phil Ochs wrote topical songs that engaged his audiences in the issues of the 1960s and 70s. In this biographical documentary, veteran director Kenneth Bowser shows how Phil's music and his fascinating life story and eventual decline into depression and suicide were intertwined with the history-making events that defined a generation. Even as his contemporaries moved into folk-rock and pop music, Phil followed his own vision, challenging himself and his listeners. Not one to pull punches, Ochs never achieved the commercial success he desperately desired. But his music remains relevant, reaching new audiences in a generation that finds his themes all too familiar. Written by
Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune (2010) was written and directed by Kenneth Bowser.
Phil Ochs was a brilliant political singer/songwriter during the 1960's and into the 1970's. Phil wrote and sang about some of the most horrible years in U.S. history--the war in Vietnam raging, the civil rights protesters being beaten and arrested, the police riot at the 1968 Democratic Party convention, and the CIA's brutal intervention in places like Chile.
My wife and I were active in the peace and justice movement, and we became very active in 1969. (We are still peace and justice activists.) The political folksingers like Pete Seeger, John Baez, and Phil Ochs provided us with inspiration, determination, and courage. Now, almost 50 years latter, most people have boiled down what we did to making the peace sign and saying "make love not war." We did those things, but we did much, much more, and we did them to the songs of the political folksingers like Phil Ochs.
The film is unusual because we don't get much footage of Phil Ochs talking about his work. We hear him singing, and we get a few clips of him talking, but mostly we hear other people talking about Ochs. These include singers and activists like Erik Andersen, Joan Baez, Billy Bragg, Bob Dylan, Sean Penn, Pete Seeger, Dave Van Ronk, Tom Hayden, and Judy Henske. In addition, Phil's brother, wife, and daughter reminisce about Phil. (There's also footage of combat in Vietnam, in Chicago, and in the southern U.S.)
This is an excellent movie, but a somewhat discouraging one. We in the peace and justice movement felt as if we were pushing against a solid brick wall. We couldn't bring it down. In fact, we couldn't make a dent in it. And, all the while, we knew that the FBI was watching us. (The FBI had hundreds of pages of reports on Phil Ochs.)
Singers like Phil Ochs gave of themselves to help keep the peace and justice movement alive. However, he paid a price for his singing, and after a while, his situation spiraled down, out of control.
We saw the movie on DVD, where it worked well. It's not a must-see movie, except for peace activists and people interested in the history of the peace movement. The film certainly validates the anger and discouragement we felt. More important, it demonstrates the uplifting quality of really great protest songs. That makes it a good movie for everyone.
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