http://thefilmstage.com/2010/10/04/wff- ... r-fortune/
Not unlike Alex Gibney’s Eliot Spitzer doc Client 9, Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune closely studies a public figure from rise to fall, the difference between the two works, of course, being the depth of each subject’s plunge. Spitzer resigned (and now has an adorable-looking anchor spot on CNN), Ochs committed suicide.
Both became relevant personas in their respective professions, politician and musician. Neither the most famous, but both well known and equally influential. And both men who let their hubris get the better of them.
Directed by Kenneth Bowser (Easy Riders, Raging Bulls) and produced by Michael Ochs (the deceased’s brother), There But For Fortune (the title of one of Ochs’ more popular politically-fused folk tunes) treats the late singer-songwriter as a lost gem from America’s most turbulent, passionate generation.
Ochs is painted as both a reluctant leader and a blind follower, for the hippie generation and of the more talented, less political Bob Dylan, respectively. As is the norm for docs of this kind, there’s plenty of archive footage and anecdotes from musicians of the time – Joan Baez gets her two cents in.
Far from objective, Bowser and Ochs are attempting something here: rebirth. And as honestly as they can. Michael Ochs talks over much of the film, and is refreshingly candid and eager to recall past memories of his brother. Where others might cry over their dead brother’s past sins, Ochs laughs and moves on. It’s a gesture as endearing as tears – this man knows who his brother was, and what his demons were and is brave enough to accept them.
In the Q & A after the film’s screening, the two men answered the obvious question: why make this documentary? “We felt like Phil got somewhat forgotten in history,” was the answer. And it’s spot on. Ochs’ lyrics, fully on display over the two hour film, are sometimes brutally on-the-nose and incredibly lacking in creativity. They’re also, more than sometimes, biting and brutal; insulin right into the heart of all of the Counterculture movements of the time. All in participation seem to be aware of all of this, and have chosen to focus on the latter.
Ochs would soon succumb to constant rumblings of his mind, killing himself by hanging in 1976 at the age of 35. Watching his downfall, succinctly captured in extended clips from a film he attempted to make of a failed protest he tried to organize, we see a man driven to madness by the activism that now defines his legend. Many of his peers talk about the end of Vietnam being an end of ambition: a “what do we do now?” moment. It’s a sad, interesting notion that isn’t explored by other filmmakers near as much as it should be. In Ochs, Bowser has found a tragic hero he wants history to remember and appreciate.
And he makes a damn good case for it.
7 out of 10