Directed by Jamie Crawford
Release Date: 3rd August 2022
Peace, love, harmony, listening to great rock music on a pretty field, getting high and being mellow are the imagery so ingrained into the mind at the mere mention of the iconic Woodstock 1969 concert that it almost feels weirdly perverse that its thirty year later follow-up is synonymous for the complete opposite in every way.
Inevitably, or as always seems to be the case with this type of thing, we are being treated to not one but two documentaries that aim to get knee-deep into how and why a huge scale of event where music and fun should be the predominant language were very quickly replaced with rampant poisonous chaos.
Like the Fyre Festival, you might sit back and watch with open mouthed shock that things turn out the way they do here but hubris, greed and chaos do have a nasty habit of making frequent bedfellows.
There are so many themes to unpack here that any exploration of why Woodstock ’99 took the turn that it did can come down to many reasons that cross pollinate each other; the difference in late 90s/early 2000s youth culture and how it was the complete antithesis of the 1960s hippy culture; how the counterculture flavourings that fuelled the original festival gave way to the corporate drive of latter decades and how toxicity in the behaviour in young men was just a fact of life seemingly and everyone else just had to deal with it.
At three episodes each running for around forty-five to fifty minutes, this strikes the perfect pace and tone. Sure, it goes back and forward in regards to the timeline in the first chapter, flirting between the planning stages and the first day, but it gains impetus in showing how the initial intentions easily ran away from everyone, eventually turning into something with less heart, and driven by cold-blooded corporate and commercial ambition.
As years and decades pass by, new ideas become easily scarce, with nostalgia and the need to revisit the past becoming more blatant, especially when those running these types of things behind the scenes know a buck can be made from cashing in on previous successes.
Add to the mix other big names such as MTV trying to pursue ratings in their television broadcasts during the event, not to mention high end pay-per-view coverage that was more interested in the debauched antics of those attending than the musicians, and it’s clear more than anything that the 60s were well and truly over.
There is something weirdly funny and yet almost pathetic in MTV’s attempts at trying to maintain a sense of calm, their reporters playing it cool even as they are pelted with rocks and glasses from the baying crowd below. The latter almost becomes a like a recurring horror movie image, crowds of thousands of increasingly riled up festival goers fuelled by booze and drugs and relying and being fuelled by the aura of chaos being thrown enthusiastically from the stage by the like of Korn and Limp Bizkit (Fred Durst is portrayed in an almost egotistical villainous role here) as a mass crowd sways to the none more millennium flavoured nu-metal that was everywhere.
Director Jamie Crawford utilises the copious amount of footage available to portray a situation that at first glance feels like it’s going to be a similarly humorous and frustrating companion piece to Fyre, and yet the descent into chaos is more frightening than anything that happened at that humorous non-event. In a day and age when toxic masculinity is under a microscope, Woodstock ’99 is perhaps that toxicity implanted into a single setting, where idiocy and misogyny builds to almost distressingly horrific levels and a weekend that initially seemed to promise much instead becomes a dumpster fire. Literally.
It was supposed to be a return to the hope and love of a previous generation, one itself that was trying to escape the horrors of a world that was dealing with the onslaught of Vietnam, and yet its own follow-up became its own war zone that could never capture the magic of the original again.
It’s sadly inevitable that after the events of that weekend, stories of sexual assault and rape emerged which puts into sharp focus life before #TimesUp and #MeToo, and the sheer monstrosity of the male psyche in such barbaric environment. The footage of the final night’s violence is conveyed here in imagery that almost recalls the glowing horror of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, a film actually referenced by The Red Hot Chilli Peppers on stage as fire and chaos reign during their set.
The days of old are gone now, nothing but dreams and memories captured on grainy 16mm film, a past that never to be repeated except in the memory. You can never get it back again and maybe to do so is a Pandora’s Box that can’t be closed when there is money to be made and water to sell at four dollars a bottle.