AUSTRALIA – DECEMBER 01: Photo of Tina TURNER; Tina Turner performing on stage (Photo by Bob … [+]
At the conclusion of Tina, a new HBO documentary about the iconic Tina Turner, there is an indelible image of the singer right before the end credits. Possibly an outtake from a music video shoot circa the Private Dancer era, the image is of Turner staring directly at the camera with a determined and fierce expression that perfectly summarizes her resilience after overcoming considerable odds. As she says in the film: “I’ve had an abusive life. There’s no other way to tell the story. It’s a reality. It’s the truth. That’s what you got. So you have to accept it.”
That truth about the legend is told in dramatic and riveting fashion in this exhaustive two-hour documentary by Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin, airing on Saturday March 27 on the network and streaming on HBO Max. Prior to the production, Turner’s story has already been well chronicled in the last 40 years via a 1986 best-selling memoir I, Tina; a 1993 film dramatization What’s Love Got to Do With; and most recently a 2019 Broadway musical. They recount the main themes of Turner’s life and career: her time as one half of the hit musical act she formed with then-husband Ike Turner; the pain and abuse she suffered at his hands that led to the break-up; and her unlikely and astounding comeback in the 1980s when she reestablished herself as the Queen of Rock and Roll.
But it’s a different thing to actually see and hear Turner recount those moments in her own words as she does in Tina, augmented by mostly-never-seen-before film footage, audio and photographs. It also features new interviews with the singer, who’s now retired and living Switzerland; Oprah Winfrey; actress Angela Bassett (whose portrayal of Turner in What’s Love Got to Do With It earned her an Oscar nomination); journalist Kurt Loder, who co-wrote I, Tina; Turner’s former manager Roger Davies; and her husband Erwin Bach. With all those factors in mind, Tina presents a familiar story in a new and refreshing light. The film’s release coincides with Turner’s recent nomination for induction into this year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist.
NEW YORK – 1969: Tina Turner performs during a concert at Central Park in 1969 in Manhattan, New … [+]
As the film begins, it seems like the former Anna Mae Bullock was living a fairy tale life beginning in the late 1950s when she entered a musical and romantic partnership with Ike Turner, who played a pivotal role in the development of rock and roll. On stage and in the recording studio, the chemistry between the two were undeniable: Ike with his musical leadership, and Tina with her extraordinary voice and presence. From the 1960s to the mid 1970s, the pair were a hugely successful act with hits such as “A Fool for Your Love,” “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine” and their immortal cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary.” But there were cracks in that relationship as Tina recounts the physical abuse by Ike, to the point where the singer once overdosed on sleeping pills in 1968.
Amid the tumult, Tina was also starting to assert her independence from Ike beginning with her star turn on the duo’s Phil Spector-produced single “River Deep Mountain High,” and her introduction to Buddhism, which provided the catalyst for her to make serious life changes. That all culminated in 1976 when, after an physical altercation between the couple en route to Dallas, Tina escaped from Ike by walking across a freeway and finding shelter at a Ramada hotel with only 36 cents. Decades before #MeToo, Tina she gave a groundbreaking interview to People magazine’s Carl Arrington in 1981 detailing her about her abuse from Ike—and in the process became an inspiration to many women who experienced similar harrowing circumstances (Excerpts from that taped audio interview is presented in the documentary).
American R&B and Pop singer Tina Turner performs onstage at the Poplar Creek Music Theater, Hoffman … [+]
After divorcing Ike, Turner struck out on her own by working the Vegas/cabaret circuit throughout the rest of the 1970s in order to make a living. A meeting with British manager Roger Davies ignited the comeback that catapulted her to rock stardom in the 1980s. One of the most interesting anecdotes from Tina was Turner’s reluctance to record “What’s Love Got to Do With,” which was earlier covered by the British pop group Bucks Fizz; Turner’s version of the song went to number one and earned Grammys for Record of the Year and Song of the Year. A tidal wave of popularity followed with more hit records (“Private Dancer,” “We Don’t Need Another Hero,” “The Best”), sell-out arena tours, and high profile media appearances—all of this as she was nearing 50. She fulfilled her dream of becoming the first Black female rock artist to pack stadiums like the Rolling Stones.
Tina Turner in a scene from the HBO documentary ‘Tina.’
But Tina isn’t hagiography, but rather explores the other professional obstacles and personal struggles she faced in addition to domestic abuse. For instance, even during the period of her massive successes during the 1980s and 1990s, Turner still had to field journalists’ constant questions about her ex-husband, as if they were joined at the hip; one can immediately sympathize her exasperation and desire to move out of Ike’s shadow and the past. Additionally her time with Ike was a symptom of a much larger personal burden Turner had to carry since her childhood, as the singer speaks candidly about her upbringing in the South and her complicated family relationships, especially with her mother Zelma.
One of the most moving moments from the doc is an audio clip of Turner’s interview with author Loder from 1985 for her memoir in which she frankly discusses the lack of love she experienced: “I have not received love almost ever in my life. I did not have it with my mother and father from the beginning, and I survived…I have had not one love affair that was genuine and sustained itself—not one. I’ve been through [expletive] tons of heartbreak…I said: ‘What’s wrong with me?’”
Fortunately, the turbulent moments in Turner’s life are counterbalanced by the more triumphant ones, as shown through clips of her explosive live performances from her entire career—as well as the testimonials of her friends and admirers. In the end, the film’s message is the perseverance of a towering musical figure who battled to reach the pinnacle of success. “Look what I have done in this lifetime with this body,” Turner once said, as shared in the film’s trailer. “I’m a girl from a cotton field that pulled myself above what was not taught to me.” As the singer has now stepped away from the public spotlight, Tina is probably the closest way people will get to experience the Queen of Rock and Roll’s artistry and magic one more time.
Tina airs on HBO and HBO Max on Saturday March 27.
Cover poster of ‘Tina.’
I have been writing about popular music ever since I bought my first copy of Rolling Stone magazine about 30 years ago when I was a teenager. Since then I have covered