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The Independent Critic

Blood, Sweat & Tears, Clive Davis
John Scheinfeld
112 Mins.
Freestyle Digital Media

 Movie Review: What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat & Tears 
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You would think by now we would know that there's always another side to the story. 


Yet, here we were in the 1970s. Blood, Sweat & Tears was on the verge of greatness. Having formed in the late 1960s, Blood, Sweat & Tears had a middling first album that planted the seeds for something special to happen. 

Then, something entirely different began to derail it all. 

In 1970, they became the first American rock band to perform behind the Iron Curtain. Upon returning to the U.S. in July of that year, they suddenly found themselves in the crosshairs between both the Right and the Left of an America that was becoming ever more polarized. The result? In many ways, their career. 

With What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat & Tears, writer/director John Scheinfeld captures the frightening intersection of politics and music to tell a story that involves much more than a rock band. There's the State Department, the White House, three oppressive communist regimes, and documentary footage that was suppresed for over 50 years. 

Until now. 

The truth, as we should have known, is much more than we ever imagined and vividly portrayed. Scheinfeld interviews singer David Clayton-Thomas (the only one here not an original member), drummer Bobby Colomby, bass player Jim Fielder, alto sax/keyboardist Fred Lipsius, and Steve Katz (who can seemingly play anything). While Scheinfeld gives us a bit of an origin story, there's never any doubt that we're here to observe what could only be described as a political thriller with awesome rhythm.  It was Blood, Sweat & Tears' second album that would be their breakthrough. It also captured the Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 1970. 

Clayton-Thomas, a Canadian, became the key figure in what would result in the Iron Curtain tour after experiencing some legal issues of which he was cleared. However, with an arrest record and previous visa issues, Clayton-Thomas was threatened with deportation - the compromise being what amounted to being a 3-week Iron Curtain Tour. Having already lost one lead vocalist, the band remained committed to doing whatever it took to keep Clayton-Thomas. The tour was U.S. government funded, though despite being presented as a "voluntary" tour it was anything but that. 

You can imagine the chaos - folks on the left had embraced the band and were now troubled by their engagement with the U.S. government. Folks on the right? Well, that's obvious. Katz, the most political of the band members, was diehard against the tour but the others were musicians first and for the most part countercultural. This didn't fit the band's image and everyone let them know. 

Scheinfeld has gotten his hands on footage shot by Donn Cambern for what should have been his first documentary. The documentary, in the end, was never released. The memories shared by band members are harrowing, receptive and warm audiences often conflicting with brutal security forces. In multiple cases, violence would ensue. You can feel the emotions band members carry to this day. 

What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat & Tears? is an engaging and impossible to ignore documentary that leaves you wanting to immediately every Blood, Sweat & Tears record you can. While the communist regimes they encountered were absolutely brutal, the truth is what the U.S. government did to exploit them is just as reprehensible. 

This is not to say, however, that everything here is harrowing. There are extraordinary moments that affirm the power of music to change lives and cultures. The film is at its best in its final third and it's these scenes that even now I can't quite forget. 

What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat & Tears will be available to rent/own on all digital HD internet, cable, and satellite platforms in North America, as well as on DVD, starting on February 27, 2024, through Freestyle Digital Media. 

Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic