Folksinger/songwriter Phil Ochs was one of the most important artistic voices in the antiwar movement during the Vietnam War. He wrote (and performed frequently) one of the most famous and strident anti-war songs of the era, “I Ain’t Marching Anymore,” as well as “Draft Dodger Rag,” which pokes fun at those who evaded the draft for specious reasons. The former contains the all-too-true lyric: “It’s always the old to lead us to the wars/It’s always the young who fall.”
Ochs, who took his own life in 1976, is perhaps best known, though, for his song, “There But for Fortune,” which fellow folksinger Joan Baez made popular. “Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune” is the title of a new documentary written and directed by Kenneth Bowser that looks at Ochs’ short life and times.
The film received good reviews in the few cities where it had theatrical releases earlier this month. Melissa Anderson, writing in The Village Voice, wrote: “Rich in archival material, Kenneth Bowser’s documentary traces his subject from handsome, skittishly affable troubadour in a turtleneck to a mentally ill ranter puffy from too much drink and irrevocably broken after the Chicago ’68 riots (Ochs hanged himself in 1976, at age 35).”
The documentary, she concluded, “is densely researched enough to yield insights not just into its overlooked subject, but also into his overly analyzed era.”
Rock critic Stephen Holden, writing in The New York Times, called it “respectful” and “nonmaudlin.”