The life story of a fascinating, tragic folk hero comes out on DVD

There’s more than one way to die for one’s country. Phil Ochs, a bright light of the folk revival and a deeply idealistic writer of topical songs, died of heartbreak.

Kenneth Bowser’s unflinching feature-length eulogy, which takes its title from Ochs’s song “There but for Fortune,” tells the singer’s story in full, and doubles as a history of the movements that all but consumed him. (The film’s talking heads include Tom Hayden, Christopher Hitchens, Pete Seeger, Ed Sanders, and, somewhat inexplicably, Sean Penn.) Ochs died by his own hand, in 1976; drink and disillusionment with the country’s Vietnam-era unraveling had fueled a major mental collapse. But the sad ending is balanced against the hope, and the humor, that carried him further than he might have come—and much to Bowser’s credit, he’s finely attuned to both.

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The life story of a fascinating, tragic folk hero comes out on DVD