Tina Turner has an amazing smile. It’s a long, wide grin showcasing the brightest pearly whites in the history of rock and roll. It’s made even more striking whenever Turner dons ruby red lipstick, as she did many times in the 50-plus years she spent singing to the high heavens and dancing like a hurricane on every stage imaginable. It’s so big and beaming that it looks almost painful to hold, especially as much as she had to hold it over the years. Turner is, among other things, a survivor: of the changing styles of music, the expanded demand of concerts, an abusive husband and the constant reminder of the life lived with said abusive husband.
As great as Tina’s life story has been, it always has to include Ike Turner. The world couldn’t stop asking her about Ike, but Tina tries to do some damage control. Turner’s life has already been laid out in grocery store magazines, the 1986 tell-all book I, Tina and the 1993 biopic What’s Love Got to Do with it, but the new documentary focuses on how she kept crawling out of darkness that the world wouldn’t leave alone. Yes, Ike is mentioned and heard multiple times throughout Tina, but it’s made very clear that he was not a positive influence on her life. Though Tina admits to being transfixed by his performance style and crediting him for giving her a crash course on life as a touring musician, she also recounts him being a controlling and abusive presence right from the start. He married her to stay dominant in their creative relationship, which then became a violent sexual relationship. Tina faced abuse from Ike before and after her famously-electric performances throughout the 60s and 70s, so much so that it drove her into a shrugging acceptance of her conditions and a drug-induced suicide attempt.
That candor and detail are what make Tina the definitive biography of Ms. Turner. Directors Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin (LA 92, Undefeated) had so much material from its titular subject, in both archival footage and a recent sitdown interview. There aren’t many other talking heads in the doc, ranging from Oprah to Kurt Loder to What’s Love-star Angela Bassett, but Turner’s memory is strong enough to paint vivid pictures from her past and the archival footage further colors-in the lines. It’s staggering to see Turner’s unflinching efforts onstage, whether it be doing two shows in Las Vegas dining halls in the 70s or drinking in the energy of hundreds of thousands of people in Rio after her comeback in the 80s.
While Tina proudly shows her moments of triumph, it’s also a revelation for how constant her struggle was over the decades. Her story of escaping Ike was one that the world loved, so much so that they wouldn’t stop asking her about it. Even after she published a book and said book was turned into a movie, people couldn’t stop bringing up Ike and that left a wound in Turner that seemingly never healed. No matter how much she smiled through interviews and photo shoots, it’s clear the public fascination with her abusive relationship kept picking away at her. It makes Tina a solid companion piece to the Whitney Houston documentary from 2018 and the more recent Framing Britney Spears, all focusing on female singers trying to survive past trauma that became current public fascination.
At its core, Tina is the story of a survivor finally getting control of her own narrative. After so many years of it being in the hands of others, this truly feels like the complete Tina Turner story. She certainly wants it to be complete, as she explicitly states how the 2018 Broadway show Tina – The Tina Turner Musical and now this are meant to be the closing statements of her life. Now living in Switzerland with her husband Erwin Bach, who is also interviewed, Turner has a comfort and relaxation in her life she’s never experienced before. After hearing so much about the trauma she endured, it’s heartwarming to see Turner gush over finding true love and easing into retirement. For all the sad stories about Houston and Spears and Amy Winehouse, it’s nice to know that at least one female music legend got a happy ending. Perhaps that’s what Tina can be; a reminder that power for pop stars is retainable no matter how deep the hurt goes.
Tina is now streaming on HBO Max.