Real life can be dotted with long stretches of stasis, where nothing much happens. Translating lives onto the screen, without dullness settling in, can be a real challenge. Tina, which premiered at the recently concluded Berlinale (the 71st virtual edition of the Berlin International Film Festival) overcomes that difficulty from the get go: there is nothing sedate about the life and times of Tina Turner, born Anna Mae Bullock, who spent her childhood picking cotton in the fields of Tennessee, US, and rose to become a music legend.
The documentary, co-directed by Daniel Lindsay and TJ Martin, was shot at her stately Zurich home, where she lives with her husband Erwin Bach. It tracks a six-decade singing career, where we see Tina talking openly about the long period of abuse (“sexual, physical, mental”) she underwent at the hands of her first mentor, Ike Turner, her slow recovery, and finding her voice. Having famously stayed away from her 1993 biopic, What’s Love Got To Do With It, where she was played by Angela Bassett, because she didn’t like the way it painted her as “a victim”, she agreed to do Tina as a way of setting the record straight, once and for all.
For the unsure young woman, abandoned by her parents and raised by her grandmother, meeting the attractive Ike at a St Louis nightclub, was a life-altering experience. As a bandleader, he saw the potential in her, and they soon became the Ike and Tina show. Successful gigs came riding in, but their private life as a married couple was full of pain and discord, dominated by the abuse that Tina speaks about so frankly in the documentary.
Archival footage interspersed by interviews with Tina’s life-long friends and associates liven up the film — Oprah (Winfrey), always a rock and compatriot; Kurt Loder, who co-wrote her autobiography, I, Tina; Roger Davies, the stalwart who began managing her, and helped her to reach the pinnacle of her dreams, as the queen of rock. It was Davies who encouraged her to do What’s Love Got To Do With It, the song which became a huge chartbuster and her calling card. She’s been on record about how much she “hated” the song because it was “too pop, not rock-n-roll” enough, but went with Davies’ instinct. Anyone who remembers Tina belting out that song, swinging-striding along, big hair and high feels to the fore, knew that it was a moment in pop-rock history.
That Tina doesn’t talk specifically about the bigotry that must have been a big part of her journey may come as a surprise. Or not. It could be just one more thing she doesn’t want to bring up because it’s no longer relevant to her. Like Ike, who was rendered irrelevant when she walked out on him. Looking at her, each deep line on her face speaks eloquently of the early tumult and the crazy success that goes with being a star who had a rich, rewarding life. Tina is available on HBO March end.