You got to hand it to HBO Max, who have been knocking it out of the park with their documentaries since the launch of their streaming service. The home cable service turned streaming giant has released only within a matter of months: “Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart”, “The Lady & The Dale”, “Allen v Farrow”. In fact today (Monday March 29th) they have released the trailer for their upcoming documentary “Wahl Street”, a documentary produced by Mark Wahlberg about Mark Wahlberg. I mean it can’t get better than that! In the meantime HBO Max follows up their stellar “Bee Gees” documentary with their newest simply called “Tina”.
As you’ve probably have guessed it. Yes, it’s about the one and only Tina Turner. “Tina,” which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival presents the story of Tina that has become, over the decades somewhat of a mythology. Tina first went public back in 1981 when she opened up to People Magazine about the torment of her life with Ike Turner, who physically abused and tortured her during their 19 years of partnership together. Five years later, she came out with “I, Tina”; an autobiography she wrote with music columnist and music guru Kurt Loder, in which she expanded on her past in disturbing and moving detail.
The book became a major Hollywood biopic, that led to the feature film “What’s Love Got to Do with It” in 1993, starring Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne (both of whom were nominated for an Oscar in their roles). It help plant Tina Turner’s story, of how she rose from nothing, was discovered by Ike to become his star, muse and his prisoner. To her revealing how she finally escaped, only to go on to even greater heights and into the realm of a music legend.
We know the Tina Turner story through decades of interviews, countless behind the music specials, Tina Turner’s bestselling autobiography, the Angela Bassett feature film and even a Broadway musical called “TINA: The Tina Turner Musical”. Yet we get something fresh, timely, inspiring and uplifting about the HBO Max documentary. While she hasn’t toured since 2009, the singer had envisioned the documentary to be her final word, saying: “I appreciate all this love for me. But I am done, I am tired, I just want to live in retirement”.
She’s kicking her retirement off to a great start by putting it all out there in telling her entire story through the HBO documentary and being nominated as a solo artist, for the 2021 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She has already been enshrined in the hall with Ike Turner in 1991. But what’s most extraordinary about the new documentary is how Tina Turner has opened up about her extraordinary ability to forgive her abusive ex-husband Ike.
After all that he had put her through and the trauma she has faced through his abuse. She admits in the film that she hated Ike ‘for a long time’, but that she started to learn forgiveness following his death in 2007. While she started to learn of forgiveness, she still hasn’t completely forgiven him as she says in the film: “I don’t know if I could ever forgive all that Ike ever did to me but Ike’s dead. So we don’t have to worry about him”.
But like most music documentaries you either go in as a die hard fan and come out as a born again fan. Or you can know nothing of who Tina Turner is and come away with a new appreciation for what a towering artist she is. But what’s great about documentaries like this is getting to see the passage of time pass by in an artist’s career. Tina Turner was that kind of artist who came out of the gates in full force and she was a force to be reckoned with in the ’60s and ‘70s.
When Tina finally broke free of Ike Turner and went onto a solo career in the 80’s and 90’s. She was at the age of 45 when she released her massively successful album “Private Dancer”, that she calls not her comeback album but her debut album. The album which wasn’t the most anticipated work of the year, as we’re told by one executive at Capitol Records. An executive who didn’t think the 45 year-old had any remaining commercial value and referred to her in the vilest of terms. The album ended up selling more than 20 million copies worldwide.
Tina Turner continued to blaze trails in such uncalculated ways that it’s only fitting a legend like her gets a film like “Tina”. A documentary where she is able to stand back and reveal her troubled life and see what a gigantic influence she was, not just in music but to women around the world who also suffered from abuse.
When she danced (she taught Mick Jagger to dance), every part of her moved and when she sang, her voice was a powerhouse of that raspy soulful and rock n roll voice. Oscar winning documentarians Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin (“The Undefeated”) pilot Tina’s life story, from her humble beginnings to her commercially successful but personally devastating partnership with Ike Turner to her incredible reinvention and rise to global superstar at an age when most singers are playing endless farewell or Greatest Hits tours. “Tina” is a documentary with more drama, more triumphs setbacks and most importantly a sense of freedom.
It’s all told through the usual trove of archival footage, interviews with former backup singers, songwriters and other associates of Tina’s, as well as a series of interviews filmed with Turner (who is now 81) at her chateau in Zurich, Switzerland. The first half of the film focuses on Turner’s upbringing and her years in the Ike & Tina revue as they scored hits with breakthrough soul and rock originals such as “River Deep, Mountain High” and “Nutbush City Limits” as well as brilliant re-interpretations on covers of “Come Together” and “Proud Mary”.
It was Ike who changed her name from Anna Mae Bullock to Tina Turner, that was a decision he took without her knowledge. It was only the beginning of his controlling and abusive behavior within their marriage. In the film, she describes how he would beat her to a pulp before forcing her to have sex with him while she was battered and bloody. Or how he forced her to go out on stage and perform minutes after slapping her around.
Friends and colleagues also chime in such as how Ike always had to know where Tina was and that she was given an allowance, never allowing to have her own money. Tina’s son recounts in an audio interview one of the more extensive incidents when Ike dragged her into the bedroom, closed the door and threw scalding hot coffee on Tina and gave her third degree burns. “I was living a life of death,” she reveals in the documentary.
Ike made her feel so miserable and trapped that she attempted suicide before leaving the marriage in 1976. During their divorce court battles, she had two sons to take care of and Ike stuck her with paying the creditors for their canceled tour dates. She’d given everything to Ike in the divorce including: jewels, cars, the rights to all their recordings but Tina won only one thing…to keep her name.
In public, Ike was the band leader, while Tina was the shining star who was both charismatic and friendly onstage and off. As Ike’s drug abuse in the 70’s made him even more of a living nightmare, Tina found the courage to finally leave him, showing up at a motel with nothing but a Mobil credit card. The next day, she got on a plane and never looked back.
“Tina” also looks back at the recording of “River Deep Mountain High,” the 1966 Phil Spector track that Spector didn’t want Ike in the studio, so though it’s billed as a single by Ike & Tina Turner, it was the first Tina Turner solo recording. The track was supposed to take the world by storm and take everyone involved to new heights. Instead, it bombed. It’s said that Ike, was probably all too happy to see it tank. That Ike says it was too white for Black radio and too Black for white radio.
In one of the film’s most entertaining vignettes, we learn the story behind the story of one of Tina’s biggest hits, “What’s Love Got To Do With It?”. The track was originally a soulless pop tune, recorded by a Abba-wannabe group called Bucks Fizz. Tina got a hold of the song, went into the studio and made it all her own, resulting in a No. 1 single. Whenever Tina takes a stage and sings “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” in front of a massive crowd that knows every word, it’s a beautifully triumphant moment.
By 1988, she was enough of a phenomenon to selling out stadiums and arenas, to having the largest audience ever for a female artist. But while the fans multiplied and she enjoyed her global success, the media and public fascination with her past kept getting brought up and never wanted to stay behind her. Tina could never live down the past of Ike Turner, including after breaking out on her own there was always the questions about Ike and the abuse. No matter how hard she tried to run away from that, the world wouldn’t let her. We learn in conversations with Tina that “The pain of her past is always lurking around the corner”. Although she’ll say it herself that she doesn’t mind talking about the abuse, but she knows if she does, it will come back in dreams as a form of PTSD.
“Tina” is her farewell biography and while she has opened up her past, one more than a few occasions. The film catches up to her in present day at her lakeside home in Switzerland, with her German music producer husband Erwin Bach. She finally sounds content, happy, at peace and it’s just the sort of epilogue that Tina Turner deserves. She would love nothing more than to live out her retirement in a spotlight free solace with never having to be asked about old wounds ever again.
What “Tina” leaves us with is an icon’s well earned happiness as she exits show business with no more blood, sweat or tears to give. It’s part tribute, part reconciliation and “Tina” makes a beautiful case for why survival can sometimes mean saying goodbye. She didn’t just play stadiums. She didn’t just hold her own in them. She ruled them. She projected herself like few performers in the history of rock ‘n’ roll could. Watching “Tina”, we see that she wasn’t merely just a force but a legend. While love’s got everything to do with it, it’s hard not to admit that she really is…simply the best.
GRADE: ★★★1/2☆☆ (3.5 out of 5)