A mouthful of mediocrity

September 4, 2022

Trainwreck: Woodstock ’99 is a newly released Netflix documentary with significant viewership

A mouthful of  mediocrity


he very first Woodstock festival took place in 1969 in Bethel, upstate New York. Officially called the 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Fair, the three day festival was attended by 450,000 people looking to celebrate peace, love and artistry. The crowd largely consisted of flower-adorned hippies sporting joints in their hands; the original trailblazers for the free love movement that was anti-war and anti-capitalism. Looking at photos from the era now, they have a tendency to elicit feelings of nostalgia for something that most of us have never even experienced. With mould-breaking artists such as Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, The Who and Santana, the festival is remembered for promoting ideals of free expression and liberation.

The 1969 Woodstock became the blueprint for music festivals due to its cultural impact. In the following decades, the name was borrowed for anniversary festivals that failed to live up to the original. Michael Lang, a music producer who co-founded the original Woodstock re-launched it officially in 1999. In a newly released Netflix documentary Trainwreck: Woodstock ’99 (which is a mouthful), he says that he “absolutely had to make a profit”, which is where things already start to go wrong.

Trainwreck: Woodstock ‘99 attempts to shed some light on the atrocities committed at this festival. Each episode covers a day of the festival from July 22 to 25. Signs of trouble manifested almost immediately, as Rosie Perez was subjected to vile sexual remarks while trying to introduce DMX. Viewers will observe an undercurrent of anger and discontentment in snippets showcasing the participants. The problems came to a destructive crescendo on the final day, as things really and truly got out of hand.

Sound towers were overthrown, unmanageable fires were lit, vehicles were driven into crowds of people and ATMs were trashed for cash by enraged festival-goers.

The appalling lack of basic facilities is showcased, interwoven with clips from the concerts and the lodging grounds. Drinking water was contaminated with human waste, making it unfit for consumption. This naturally caused vendors to exploit their monopoly to sell bottled water at 12 dollars a pop in their pursuit of windfall profits. Food became unaffordable. The crowds became too much for the limited security personnel to handle. Excessive drug and alcohol abuse further fanned the flames of this dumpster fire.

Those scrounging for drinking water and food were showcased against a soundtrack of the ’90s’ rock music, which is often characterised by rage and violence. When Limp Bizkit played the self-explanatory Break Stuff, a song that talks about breaking someone’s face and several other expletive-laden threats of violence, all hell broke loose. Sound towers were overthrown, unmanageable fires were lit, vehicles were driven into crowds of people and ATMs were trashed for cash by enraged festival-goers. Footage of these events will undoubtedly remind viewers of the recent, ill-fated Fyre Festival documentaries. This documentary seems to be inspired by their success.

Netflix markets this documentary as a behind the scenes peek into “an epic trainwreck.” Executive producer Tom Pearson calls it a “universal story of nostalgia, hubris, greed and generational schism” and “a total cluster****”. I would call this documentary underwhelming.

It is ironic that a documentary about corporate greed and pursuit of profit above all else, ruining a festival that happened way back in 1999, is now being made in pursuit of the same as cleverly disguised ‘rage bait’. Undoubtedly spurred on by the pandemonium displayed in the wildly successful Fyre Festival documentaries, Trainwreck: Woodstock ’99 fails to delve beyond the surface of the subject matter, choosing to opt for sensationalism while ignoring the real horrors.

It spends less than five minutes on coverage of the four rape cases on site. Numerous reports of groping, sexual assault and violent misogyny were also reported. These were paid almost no attention in the documentary. It chooses instead to focus on the wanton destruction of inanimate objects.

Trainwreck: Woodstock ’99 is a mediocre documentary with plenty of footage of rage and destruction but little to no nuance. Viewer discretion is advised.

The author is a staff member

A mouthful of mediocrity