Younger generations may not realize how big Tina Turner really was. Not just in her early days in the 1960’s as the lead singer of the Ike & Tina Turner Revue. But also during her massive comeback years later culminating with her 1984 multi-platinum solo album “Private Dancer”. That record would go on to sell 20 million copies and launch a global tour featuring 230 shows in 18 months including a concert in Rio in front of 186,000 fans. The next year she was starring in a “Mad Max” movie and authoring a New York Times best selling autobiography.
Now 81 years-old, Turner has mostly stepped away from the limelight yet people are still fascinated with her life’s journey – one full of amazing triumphs and devastating hardships. In HBO Max’s new documentary “Tina” from directors Dan Lindsay and TJ Martin, Turner tells her heartbreaking yet inspirational story for what she hopes is the last time while also paying her final farewell to a fan base that spans the entire globe.
One of the documentary’s biggest strengths is that so much of what we see is in Turner’s own words. Lindsay and Martin pull large chunks from a 2019 interview with Turner from her home in Zurich, Switzerland and from her much publicized 1981 interview with People Magazine which marked the first time she spoke publicly about the abusive relationship and bitter breakup with Ike Turner, her husband and long-time music collaborator. Tina and Ike had been together for sixteen years, and though divorced from him, prying interviews made certain Tina could never fully escape his shadow.
Tina Turner was a natural performer full of energy, arms and legs flailing wildly, hair thrashing to the rhythms, and full-bodied notes pouring out of her soul. Yet we learn it was never her dream to become a superstar. Instead it was a fateful evening in 1957 when Tina went to hear Ike and his band play at a St. Louis nightclub. She was wow’d by Ike’s talent and asked if she could join him on stage. He didn’t buy that she could sing and turned her down. But she kept going back night after night until Ike gave in. Her voice blew him away and soon the 17-year-old Turner was playing weekend gigs which began her rocky road to stardom.
Lindsay and Martin ease us through Tina’s years with Ike using her voice, a wealth of great archival footage, and some revealing interviews with friends and former bandmates. The film takes a very candid yet compassionate look at the duo’s creative highs and their marital lows which were mostly a byproduct of Ike’s mental and physical abuse. It paints a vivid portrait of their 16 years together including one of the film’s most sobering moments as Turner gives her account of the evening of July 3rd, 1976 in Dallas, Texas – the night she determined enough was enough.
In many ways “Tina” is also a movie about overcoming, reclaiming your life, and making your name your own. We see it as Turner, essentially cast aside by the industry, sets out to reinvent herself. She started by doing Las Vegas cabaret gigs, TV specials, and game show appearances just to get by. But soon she not only hits it big but becomes a global mega-star, selling out massive arenas and doing it all on her terms.
“Tina” is in many ways a fairly traditional music documentary which is just fine when you have a fascinating subject and you tell the story with clarity and honesty. That’s what we get here in large part because Lindsay and Martin let Turner do a lot of the talking. And while we get a clear picture of the savage effects of domestic abuse, we also see one of the first women to stand up to her abuser publicly which would inspire others to do the same. At the same time she was never able to get away from the very abuse that caused her so much pain. Even after becoming the biggest female pop star in the world the media and the public made sure Ike Turner’s influence was always present. With this documentary maybe she can finally put that painful part to rest. “Tina” is now streaming on HBO Max.
VERDICT – 4 STARS