1969: Woodstock changes the history of music and the United States. Half a million people pay $18 for three days where they come together to celebrate peace, love, drugs and rock. 1999: Woodstock becomes an absolute disaster. 250,000 people pay $150 for three days where they come together to celebrate drugs and rock, leaving aside peace, love and good intentions, replacing them with crimes full of rage. We all know the story of Woodstock and its pivotal importance in the American counterculture, but why fool ourselves: a good story of destruction and revenge is infinitely more interesting.
Oh, what nostalgia, the 90s
The music festival documentaries that were born dead and then got even worse they are beginning to be a genre in themselves (and that, in addition, Netflix and HBO are copying each other). If three years ago we had the incredible story of the Fyre Festival, this year we have Woodstock 1999, which HBO narrated last year in the form of a movie and, I admit, I haven’t seen, so I can’t compare. Three days of rock and drugs in which there was only one thing really important to the organizers: money.
The story is incredible and the images of the bonfires are already iconic from the first minute, but the Netflix docuseries, in its eagerness to tell how the disaster was forged, falls into excessive duration and creates constant false expectations, moments that seem to mark a before and after but are about a minor inconvenience (“With Korn the madness broke out… But then Bush came and they calmed down”). And when the real disaster comes, everything seems rushed. Although the archive images are very good and carefully chosen (beware of those details of MTV’s pay per view), the documentary is not told as well as it could: it overly primes an ending that, even though it is a beast, is not so high up
Not that ‘Total Fiasco: Woodstock 1999’ is bad (not at all), but in its own format is its greatest sin: when telling what happened day by day, a lot of importance is given to the anecdote instead of putting all the pieces in context before they fall of their own weight: only in the last episode, in full destruction (this is not a spoiler , eye), we discovered that there was an area with ATMs and a place for vendors, something that would have been solved by spending a little more time in showing the full scope of Woodstock 1999. After all, there is no time obligation to fulfill and it would have improved the overall cohesion.
Liters of alcohol run through my veins
But little mistakes don’t blur three episodes full of good music, a flash about how television worked at the end of the 21st century (that absurd pay-per-view that led to showing people naked and drugged in exchange for money) and, of course, how a bad organization can kill a good idea . The problem was not only that at Woodstock 1999 money prevailed over everything (“Profit Stock”, as the attendees called it on the last day in multiple graffiti), hardly any security was hired and some bands did nothing to calm things down: the documentary borders, but does not finish touching, that for the kids of 1999 social rage had replaced flower power.
The biggest mistake made by Michael Lang, the organizer, and his family, was to believe that kids in 1999 had the same interest in the counterculture and wanted to champion causes just as they did in the late 1960s: at this Woodstock, the public was going to listen to music , take ecstasy, have sex and do the goat, but no one cared if they had an excuse to do it, even though the members of the organization that were part of the original event were convinced that this was not about money, but about ideals. The evolution is palpable from day one to anyone except the people in charge, who didn’t want to realize they were stretching the gum too far until it was too late and anarchy replaced good intentions.
The first two episodes of the documentary burn slowly, showing how things got progressively worse during the first two days of the festival. But nothing makes you wait for the explosion of the end, in which perhaps he should have focused more, when the thing goes from a friendly vigil to ‘Lord of the flies’ in record time starting from a morning in which the rivers of feces and garbage accompanied the asphalt on which it was developed this mess. Nor is Jamie Crawford, the director, very interested in jumping to conclusions, and he doesn’t have much trouble making his documentary shine despite its flaws: when the story is as powerful as this, the complex thing would be not to make it interesting.
In the end, ‘Total fiasco: Woodstock 1999’ is the chronicle of how bad executive decisions bring about worse consequences and the intergenerational misunderstanding that leads to disaster. It is difficult for the ball to start spinning but when it does it is absolutely impossible to stop it, and the documentary finally offers everything that it has been promising for several scenes: the pot exploding after putting it on the fire for a long time. When you put 250,000 people on a paved site with no shade in very hot weather, you raise the price of water and food, you are not able to offer drinking water, you create an exclusive VIP area for performers and music, you allow a river of – literally- shit that everyone confuses with mud and in one night your festival ends up in tatters… There are even worse decisions to be made.
Despite the snags that you can get out of it, ‘Total fiasco: Woodstock 1999’ is spectaculara documentary that you never know how it will continue and in which it is impossible to notice Where does the responsibility of the organizers end and that of the Kaffir millennials begin? who attended encouraged by the ultraviolence of Fred Durst and his gang, in part because the whole world was at fault at the same time.
However, there is something disturbing in all the footage: only at the end, in the last five minutes, do they skip the rather jocular tone to talk about the really important consequences beyond the material losses, uniting it in a rather strange way with the Me Too. It would have been worth exploring these incidents for more time beyond the end of an episode with dramatic background music, because it seems like a added at the last minute almost parodicas if they did not want to tell this bitter side of Woodstock that those responsible take with unusual normality.
This documentary in three parts does not need a prodigious editing or an incisive script to narrate a story as curious as -for the most part- funny, which is worth going on autopilot to keep us hooked for almost three hours on television. I wish I had a little more intentionality, preparation and attention to the seriousness of what happened, because what could have been a magnificent docuseries remains a simple curiosity. An essential curiosity that basically is a moral tale of bad decisions and consequences that presses the accelerator too late and hesitates to point out the real culprits of this total fiasco.