On Netflix, the anthology documentary series Chaos: Woodstock 99 looks back on the festival disaster that buried the pacifist utopia of the 1960s for good.
We can’t say if the idea is brilliant or totally absurd, but Netflix has decided to put online, in the middle of festival season, a documentary series on the worst festival that humans have created. In 1999, one of the organizers of the mythical Woodstock Festival, Michael Lang, decided to join forces with two promoters to recreate it, thirty years later. After an already calamitous first attempt in 1994, when the rain had transformed the event into a huge swamp (the members of Nine Inch Nails had also appeared on stage completely covered in mud for a performance that remained in the annals), Michael Lang strongly believes in the resurrection of Flower Power in the era of Nu metal.
The year 1999 is not insignificant. A few months earlier, America cautiously discovers the images of the Columbine massacre scrolling in a loop on televisions. The country finds itself face to face with its deepest demons, its excess of firearms leading to this type of tragedy which still plagues the country today. Just as at the time of the Vietnam War, Michael Lang intends to awaken the consciences of the whole world with the organization of this festival which would bring together the most popular artists of the time: James Brown, Sheryl Crow, the Red Hot Chili Peppers or Limp Bizkit again. Woodstock 99 will ultimately become a reflection of all the violence in the United States. In three staggering episodes of absurdity, Anthology Chaos: Woodstock 99recounts the disaster of what should have been the greatest musical and cultural event of the 1990s. The documentary series by Jamie Crawford is a continuation of programs that have detailed the most incredible disasters of the century and including a platform like Netflix loves.
Fire, Blood and Tears: Woodstock 99 has something of the spiritual father of the Fyre Festival , “the best festival that never happened” in 2017. From Michael Lang to Korn singer Jonathan Davis, via Fatboy Slim, the personalities parade to testify to their memories of this moment. Denial among the organizers, some of whom go so far as to call into question the words of women victims of sexual assault during the festival, or indelible amazement among former festival-goers, the documentary is concentrate of cruelty and mind-blowing images that have what to jump out of his seat.
But beyond the sensationalist and nostalgic charm that some will experience seeing some of the most emblematic artists of the 1990s on stage, the documentary series is more interesting when it focuses on the culture of the time. Especially when she suddenly draws a bridge between toxic male behavior and the works that these same men consume on a daily basis.
1999 is also not a year like the others for the cinema. American Pie is a hit in theaters and Fight Club comes out in the fall, pushing young adults to replicate what they see, only more brutal and vulgar. Woodstock 99 was one of the first festivals to set up a video on demand system, allowing anyone to watch concerts and images from the event on their TV. It will only take a few hours for the initiative to change into a competition for festival-goers, often naked or totally drunk, who seek to defy the laws of political correctness.
Hoping to cure America’s ills, Woodstock 99 has become its angry and anarchic extension, literally applying the deadly fantasies projected by fiction into reality. Those responsible for this disaster seem to be designated but somehow rather vague, like links in a capitalist system that has placed greed above all human value. Witness this hallucinating scene where one of the employees of the Peace Patrol, the patrol supposed to maintain calm on the festival grounds, recounts having exchanged his uniform for 400 dollars to allow a spectator to go backstage and pose with some celebrities. Like so many others in the series, the anecdote could give rise to laughter if it did not sum up the state of mind of an event organized for very bad reasons. The spirit of Woodstock was thought to be invincible and imperishable. Three days, the summer of the year 1999, will have succeeded in burying it forever.