Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune": a review

I certainly wanted "Phil Ochs: There but for Fortune" to be allot better than it was. As my friend Judith Pasternack said "The material was better than the movie they made from it." But you have to say the music was wonderful and it was great to be immersed once again in the optimism of the 60s, even if only for 1 hr & 36 min. There's also no question that Phil could write a political song that energized people. "I Ain't Marchin' Anymore" is truly one of the great anti-war songs. I think only someone without a soul could hear it and not want to march against the war, any war.

But I couldn't help but compare it with "Pete Seeger: The Power of Song." Whereas "The Power of Song" was such an up, "There But for Fortune" is the exact opposite. No matter how much the U.S. tried to destroy Pete, he survived, actually he prevailed. Not so for Phil who was ultimately another casualty of this society. But we don't really learn very much about the person behind Ochs the movement star. For example, Alice Skinner, his wife and Meegan, his daughter are in the film at the beginning and at the end, but their missing for all the rest. We never really learn what happened to his relationship with Alice (they stayed married but didn't live together) and toward the end of his life he did spend some time with Meegan, but they didn't have much of a relationship either. But we don't learn much of this from the movie. Again the comparison with Pete Seeger is striking. Some of the weakness of the movie in telling the story of Phil Ochs life, may have resulted from the fact that his brother, Michael, was an executive producer and may have tried to shape the view of his brother it showed.

In August 1971, he became close to Chilean folksinger Victor Jara. And Jara's public torture and murder after the anti-Allende coup seemed to have begun the slide which ended in his suicide in 1976 at age 36. His tragic end may have been over-determined. He, like his father, was manic-depressive and an incident in Tanzania, when he was "mugged and strangled resulting in the loss of the higher end of his vocal range" heightened his depression. And as the movie says, he organized the "end of war" rally in Central Park, but it depressed him rather than energizing him. After all, what was an anti-war singer/songwriter going to do when the war was over. Obviously, there could be many answers to that question, but for someone deep in depression perhaps there was only one.

Maybe Phil Ochs life can be summarized in his less than comradely relationship with Bob Dylan, who he idolized. He wanted to be the best songwriter of his generation until he met Dylan and then he wanted to be the second best. I think, perhaps, second best just wasn't good enough for Phil Ochs.

1 comment:

AnnG said...

Oh my! You didn't employ your tame editor. But good points all around.
Also, your blog is prettier than mine... :(