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Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune

4.9 out of 5 stars 48 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

As our country continues to embroil itself in foreign wars, Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune is a timely and relevant tribute to an unlikely American hero. Over the course of a meteoric music career that spanned two turbulent decades, Phil Ochs sought the bright lights of fame and social justice in equal measure - a contradiction that eventually tore him apart.

From youthful idealism to rage to pessimism, the arch of Ochs' life paralleled that of the times, and the anger, satire and righteous indignation that drove his music also drove him to dark despair. In this brilliantly constructed film, interview and performance footage of Ochs is illuminated by the ruminations of Joan Baez, Tom Hayden, Pete Seeger, Sean Penn, Peter Yarrow, Christopher Hitchens and others.


Filled with passion, humor, idealism, intelligence and perfect songs. --L.A. Weekly

A terrific documentary. --The Hollywood Reporter

Essential.. A must-see! --Entertainment Weekly

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Phil Ochs, Joan Baez, Tom Hayden, Pete Seeger, Sean Penn
  • Directors: Kenneth Bowser
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Anamorphic, Color, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: First Run Features
  • DVD Release Date: July 19, 2011
  • Run Time: 97 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B004VN7RN0
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #65,393 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By K. Harris HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on June 30, 2011
I'm ashamed to confess that, despite name recognition, I knew little about Phil Ochs before watching Kenneth Bowser's surprisingly comprehensive new documentary "Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune." Considering that Ochs died in 1975, there are still plenty of people around to readily share his story as well as his legacy. And the documentary does an excellent job of balancing the story of the man with the story of his music--giving one of the most well rounded biographies that you might hope for. A contemporary of Baez and Dylan, Ochs was decidedly more pointed and politicized in his lyrics and defied categorization as a typical folk singer. From idealism, to a pursuit of fame, to an anger at the status quo, to utter despondency--Ochs' personal struggles often ran parallel to the times in which he lived. His remarkable journey is highlighted in vivid, and uncompromising, detail and the film showcases a true artist whose impact and relevancy are still felt.

Ochs truly saw song as a form of revolution and was inspired to write about contemporary news stories encompassing subjects as important as the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War. The film interviews family members, music scene contemporaries, political activists, and many more in detailing how important Ochs was to the emerging and changing musical scene of the sixties. These interviews are informative and enlightening and juxtaposed with plenty of archival footage that brings Ochs to the forefront. And through it all, the soundtrack is filled with recordings and concert performances that show Ochs' talent to maximum affect. In addition to the music and the contemporary interviews, Ochs' own words (through past interviews, etc) really make you understand the man--in all his glory and with all his foibles.
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I can only wonder what kinds of songs singer/songwriter (before that label was ever used) Phil Ochs would be writing today - or for the last 35 years - if he had not taken his own life, at age 35, in 1976. He was in Greenwich Village writing both protest songs and ballads BEFORE Bob Dylan arrived. For a short period they were "competitors" (at least in Ochs' eyes). I had the true please of seeing Ochs perform live twice in a small coffee house in Philadelphia and I was at Philly's Electric Factory when Ochs repeated his "gold lame'" show the night after what became known as the "The Gunfight at Carnegie Hall", an interesting even released by A&M on Lp. Ochs was a passionate and thoughtful man and yet he had to fight his own demons. But he wrote songs that are still sung today - "Changes", for instance - and many of the things Ochs wrote about - war, corrupt politics - are still with us.

Years ago there was talk about a film bio of Ochs which was to star Sean Penn (who I think would be perfect). This project never got off the ground but - in 2010 - documentary filmmaker Kenneth Bowser crafted this documentary about Ochs' life and it received limited National distribution. Now that it is out on home video DVD, it should reach a wider audience. While I know Ochs fans - who followed his career - will want to see the film (and it's GREAT!), I hope a younger generation - those born since Ochs' death - will seek it out.

There is really not a lot of performance footage of Ochs out there and I'm surprised that Bowser could dig up this much. (It might help that Phil's younger brother Michael, who became his manager, runs Michael Ochs Archive - one of the largest licensed image collections in the world.
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Phil Ochs was a folk singer and songwriter who got his start in the early 1960's and is best known for his anti-war and pro-civil rights songs. That in itself does not distinguish him; there were many folk singers who sang topical political songs in the 1960's. What does stand out, however, is that he was easily one of the most talented songwriters to come out of that era and style, challenging many of the best known folk artists with lyrics of topical beauty and potency.

I first became aware of Phil Ochs a few years after his death. I have always preferred lyrics of substance to popular songs and love songs. The first time I heard him, I was struck by the anger of his words, which were coolly contrasted by his soothing voice and plaintive guitar. Phil Ochs saw himself as someone who could make a difference and his pointed lyrics were always directed where he thought they could do the most good. Of particular power were the songs he wrote about racial injustice. When N.A.A.C.P activist Medgar Evers was assassinated, Ochs responded with Too Many Martyrs, a song which not only wrung all the possible emotion out of this tragedy, it powerfully skewered the killer's brutality with all the anger and rage appropriate to such a cowardly crime. "While we waited for the future for freedom through the land, the country gained a killer and the country lost a man." This song alone would be a remarkable legacy if it was the only hard-hitting, angry and perfectly placed lyric he ever wrote. But it was just one of dozens of songs that Phil Ochs wrote that seemed to single-handedly take on all the injustices of a generation.
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