Life & Culture

Trainwreck: Woodstock 99 TV review: A Sixties dream turns into a Nineties nightmare

Netflix's portrayal of how an attempt to replay the famous festival three decades on is a detailed autopsy of the decline and fall of teenagekind


Clusterf**k: Woodstock '99. XXX in Clusterf**k: Woodstock '99. Cr. Netflix © 2022

Woodstock 99
Netflix | ★★★★✩

For those of us who remember 1999 as if it was yesterday, this documentary can be a bit of a shock.

It was 23 years ago! It comes across like a totally different era! All the present-day talking heads now look so old! I’m so old!

Mind you, it’s a bit of a shock for anyone seeing how events unfolded in Trainwreck: Woodstock 99. Aptly titled, in that you just can’t look away.

This three-part documentary is obviously Netflix’s attempt to replicate the success it had with FYRE, a similar film chronicling a disastrous music festival on an exclusive private island that was a big hit for them a few years ago.

And it seems to have worked, with Trainwreck sitting atop its charts and word of mouth nattering away. And that’s even with HBO having brought out a documentary about exactly the same event only last year. We just can’t get enough of young people descending into Lord of the Flies chaos.

The original Woodstock 69 may not have the same cultural cachet in the UK as the US, but images of daisy-chained teenage girls swirling around in white dresses and long-haired shirtless boys playing guitars around campfires are evoked nonetheless.

That all it takes is adding three to the six, to transform that image to girls being sexually assaulted and screamed at to take their clothes off, and boys smashing their guitars and throwing everything flammable into the fire, speaks to the extremities of human existence, and the conditions necessary to transverse from one side to the other.

This three hours of bands, organisers, and punters explaining the interspersed footage, serves as a detailed autopsy of the decline and fall of teenagekind. Factor intertwines with factor. Too much tarmac, sun, litter. Not enough water, security, toilets.

And presiding over it all are unfortunately two of our brethren. I say unfortunately, not because there’s anything about our shared background that factors into how events transpired, but because it’s always disappointing to note the failures of one of your own. And fail they did.

On paper the partnership between Michael Lang, founder of the original Woodstock, and music promotor John Scher, seems to be a collaboration of the idealist and the businessman. Yet they constantly switch between greed and naivety.

Smarting at having made a loss during Woodstock 94, many choices aim to ensure it doesn’t happen again, and when profit becomes the driving factor behind trying to organise a weekend for nearly half a million teenagers, the results seem inevitable.

Amongst the equivocation and hubris, valid points are made about the actions of bands like Limp Bizkit, the prevailing testosterone-driven frat boy culture of the time, and the entitlement of our generation, but the inability of either man to take any responsibility for what resulted in the rape of at least four women, the sexual assault of many many more, supposedly 5,000 people requiring medical attention, and possibly two deaths linked to heatstroke, is a lesson in cognitive dissonance.

But after taking us through hell, this ends with the now adult interviewees telling us that Woodstock 99 was the best experience of their lives, I’m not sure if anyone’s learned anything.

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