The Pitch: In the late 1960s, Blood, Sweat & Tears were at the top of their game. Arguably the biggest band in the world – with their monumentally successful 1969 self-titled record and hits like “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” and “Spinning Wheel” – they managed to strike a chord (likely a seventh chord) with both critics and general audiences. Their somewhat prescribed “hippy” vibe and classic rock and roll attitude also made them a symbol for the counter-cultural movement – perhaps unwittingly so.
The band was less political at the time than fans might have expected, with only select members vocalizing their positions on the issues of the day. And yet, even the less politically inclined members knew that partnering with the United States government for a tour behind the Iron Curtain might not be the best idea. Thanks to what one member explicitly calls “blackmail,” however, Blood, Sweat & Tears felt forced to accept the offer.
What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat & Tears? follows that infamous tour and the backlash the band faced upon returning to the states. Featuring interviews with the band, members of the touring crew, and music critics, it’s a music documentary that ultimately becomes too obsessed with its Cold War backdrop.
The Hook: Perhaps only second to Blood, Sweat & Tears themselves, the political landscape of the Cold War and the American counterculture movement it inspired are the main driving forces of the documentary. A majority of the screen time leading up to the tour paints a picture of the peace-loving, free-love, anti-establishment fanbase the band attracted — while, surprisingly, the band spends a considerable amount of time separating themselves from that image. Once in Europe, it’s all about culture shock as the band slowly becomes more sympathetic to America’s position.
Which is all to say, What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat & Tears? doesn’t cover a whole lot of new ground. Anyone who passed their freshman-year history course will struggle to find any information that might make them look at that time period in a new way. Its perspective is firmly rooted in America, and it rarely asks deeper questions about the actions of any governmental force portrayed in the film, be they foreign or domestic.
But, of course, that’s just the setting. It’s a film about the band Blood, Sweat & Tears, right, not a history lecture? And the documentary certainly fares better when it embraces what it is — an oral history of a tumultuous time for the band.