“I had an abusive life. It’s a reality so you have to accept it,” says Tina Turner, as she contemplates the physical and emotional blows she absorbed as the abandoned child of sharecroppers in Nutbush, TN, and as the physically battered and emotionally abused young musical partner and wife of rock ‘n’ roll bandleader Ike Turner.
Thankfully, for fans like me, there were some very, very good days and nights for “Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll” Tina Turner… especially those she spent performing on stage, in recording studios and on film and TV.
I was lucky to have attended a performance of Tina Turner’s “What’s Love?” tour in 1993. It was one of the best concerts I’ve ever experienced. She was electrifying as she sang and danced in her sparkly signature mini dresses and high heels, on, over and around the elevated stage set scaffolding. I remember holding my breath as she navigated the heights of that scaffolding, marveling at her voice, her agility and those legs!! She was 53 at the time.
Tina Turner’s landmark musical performances, signature songs and personal appearances on TV talk and game shows and in movies, as well as flashbacks to the intimate dark corners of her life are all encapsulated in TINA, the new feature-length documentary directed by Oscar® winners Dan Lindsay and T. J. Martin. TINA debuts on HBO tonight, Saturday, March 27, 2021, 8:00 – 10:00 p.m. ET/PT. (See below for further info.)
Tina Turner’s 50-year career began innocently in a Baptist church choir, segued in 1957 from hopeful starry-eyed Ike Turner fan to show-stopping lead singer/dancer in his Ike & Tina revue, and matured into a Grammy Award®-winning solo career.
Lindsay and Martin’s two-hour Tina Turner tribute is a time-lined mélange of recent interviews with Turner (now 81) and her husband, Erwin Bach, a former record producer and the film’s executive producer. The film is also jampacked with excerpts from her revelatory 1981 interview with People Magazine editor Carl Arrington; vintage performance clips and audio dating from before and during Ike & Tina’s meteoric rise, as well as commentary from key backup singers and managers; Turner’s biographer Kurt Loder; her mom and son Craig.
Turner’s pals Oprah Winfrey, actress Angela Bassett and playwright Katori Hall, the latter is responsible for the recent Tony nominated “Tina–The Tina Turner Musical,” additionally share their insights about Tina Turner’s singular appeal as a performer, her resilience as the survivor of shocking domestic violence and her successful career comeback.
Audio clips from Carl Arrington’s explosive People Magazine interview drive the personal narrative of this film. The 1981 exposé blew the lid off her unhappy marriage and family life, revealing details of her brutal treatment at the hands of her mentor and former husband Ike Turner.
Unbeknownst to the growing legion of Ike & Tina fans at the time, Ike would beat her, choke her, throw scalding coffee on her, strike her with anything he could lay his hands on, before or after performances. She would often perform swollen, bruised and blackened from these incidents. One of their sons, who with his three brothers bore witness to their mom’s ongoing torture by their dad, details a chilling incident that pushed him to cut ties with his dad forever. Tina admits that after Ike died, and she had let go of the hate she felt for him, she realized that “he was a really ill person.”
Also relevant to her story as a 16-plus year victim of Ike’s abuse is her harrowing memory of her escape. After several suicide attempts and Ike’s mindless attack in a limo on the way to a performance, she literally made a run for it… across a busy highway. She somehow dodged oncoming trucks that day but not Ike’s vindictive divorce demands thereafter. She walked away from her Ike & Tina career and marriage with nothing but the hard fought right to use her stage name.
Bolstered by a supportive new manager and her determination to rebuild her life and re-brand her name and career, Tina’s journey from longtime abuse victim and survivor to beloved superstar was astounding. Her showstopping performances, numerous Grammy Awards® and nominations, and hit songs bridged musical genres and fulfilled her dream to jump to the top of the Billboard charts and fill huge concert stadiums that were once the bastion of male counterparts like Mick Jagger.
Melding 50 years of powerful archival performance footage with explosive vintage audio and on-camera interviews is more than a tad daunting and, at times, the seams tend to show in TINA. Questions remain unanswered, especially about how she managed to juggle the daily responsibilities of motherhood with the demands of endless concert tours. I would have also liked to have heard more from her sons. But these quibbles aside, TINA is a welcome and moving reminder of Tina Turner’s extraordinary talent and her evergreen appeal as a performer and role model to women of all ages.
Of the many wonderful musical vignettes in TINA, the one that stands out to me and literally brought tears to my eyes is her haunting rendition of the Beatles’ signature song, “Help!” In light of the secret life that Tina Turner lived and survived as a tortured young performer, wife and mother, it is an especially resonant song choice that speaks directly to those whose self esteem and hope is shattered by their physically and emotionally abusive domestic partners and spouses.
TINA debuts on HBO tonight, Saturday, March 27, 2021, 8:00 – 10:00 p.m. ET/PT. Check listings for repeat air dates in the days and weeks ahead and its availability thereafter on HBO On Demand and streaming via HBO Max.–Judith Trojan