Tina Turner 2021 The Final Word on
Tina Turner Tina Turner Final The Word on
Sat, 27 Mar 2021 01:00:00 -0700
The HBO documentary Tina gives the singer the last say on a life that was for long periods out of her own hands
The HBO documentary Tina gives the singer the last say on a life that was for long periods out of her own hands.
Before “What’s Love Got to Do With It” was a Grammy Hall of Fame record, the title of an Angela Bassett–fronted biopic, or a No.
1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, it was a breathy little ditty sung by the British pop group Bucks Fizz.
After the ABBA-reminiscent band recorded its rendition, the songwriter Terry Britten took his track to a very different artist who initially disliked it, before she brought it to life with a new vigor.
“They weren’t used to a strong voice standing on top of music, but I converted it,” Tina Turner recalls in Tina, a new HBO documentary about the famed musician.
“I made it my own.”
Turner did with that sleepy song what she always did with rock and roll as a genre: claim it.
When the music industry didn’t open its doors to her, or to Black women more broadly, she found a window to climb through—or kicked the door down altogether.
Just look at what she did for Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary” in 1971.
“Turner upped the intensity of [John] Fogerty’s country-rock anthem by a factor of 10,” the author Jason Heller recently wrote.
“It’s Turner’s soulful ecstasy that sells it.” The song may have helped liberate Tina, as Heller notes, but her cover also pushed the genre forward.
The documentary, from Oscar winners Daniel Lindsay and T.
Martin, premiering today, isn’t a neat story of one woman’s triumph against the odds.
Instead, it follows the artist’s constant battles for control of her life, career, and legacy.
Through 2019 interviews with Turner at her home in Zurich, as well as archival footage, the film chronicles her fight for personal and creative autonomy.
“Look what I have done in this lifetime, with this body,” she says at one point, her voice sounding at once triumphant and incredulous.
The gravity of that contradiction hangs over Tina, which reminds its viewers not just of the star’s talent but of all the turns at which that vibrance was nearly cut off from the world altogether.
The struggle of navigating public life as a high-profile Black woman musician has been explored in other recent works: The December documentary Billie and the February biopic The United States vs.
Billie Holiday both track the blues singer’s contentious relationship with the media and the music industry.
And like those films, past documentaries and biopics about Whitney Houston and Nina Simone, in addition to forthcoming works about Aretha Franklin, all lack an element that differentiates Tina: the subject’s voice.
In works of biographical entertainment, the impulse for an artist to control their own narrative can lead to hagiographies that strip their subjects of unflattering histories.
But, like the biopic and musical before it, Tina doesn’t avoid the darker chapters of the star’s life.
Framed as Turner’s farewell to public life, the documentary instead allows her to define her story in its totality, in part by revisiting—and in some cases rewriting—the eras in which others wrote it for her.
Tina homes in on two related struggles: Turner’s insistence on making it as a rock musician and her commitment to owning, and reinventing, her name.
Born Anna Mae Bullock in Nutbush, Tennessee, Tina Turner wasn’t destined to perform for crowds of more than 100,000 people around the world.
The first of Tina’s two acts introduces her early years and the subsequent move to Missouri, where she met the locally famous musician Ike Turner.
It was Ike who first called her “Tina,” a name that he chose partly for its closeness to “Sheena,” the name of a racy, jungle-dwelling comic-book character.
By attaching his own last name to Tina when they became a musical duo in 1960, and then marrying the young singer in 1962, Ike hoped to keep her from abandoning him after they found success, she explains.
“I was truly a friend to Ike, and I had promised to help him,” Tina says of their embattled marriage and creative partnership.
“So I was still trying to help him get a hit record.”
Without glossing over the wrenching details of Ike’s physical and emotional abuse (the late singer admitted to hitting Tina, but claimed that the abuse allegations are exaggerated), the documentary highlights the moments when Tina got some respite.
Recording with the producer Phil Spector in 1966, she was able to sing without Ike controlling her arrangements only because Spector had paid him not to be present.
“That was a freedom I didn’t have,” Tina says of singing with boundless might over the monumental orchestration of “River Deep – Mountain High.” “You’re like a bird that gets out of a cage.” The song didn’t become a hit in the United States—unlike in the U.K.—but it planted the seeds for Tina’s genre-defying musical repertoire separate from Ike.
In the film, Turner explains why she doesn’t consider Private Dancer, the first commercial success she achieved following her divorce from Ike, a comeback record: “Tina had never arrived,” she says.
“It was Tina’s debut for the first time.
This was my first album.” Most often, she speaks about the immense toll of wresting her identity back from Ike—and from the subsequent media attention.
Speaking about her 1978 divorce proceedings, for example, a younger Tina corrects a journalist who comments that Ike wanted to own all of the duo’s artistic work.
“No, he wanted to own me,” she says.
It’s no wonder, then, that the 1986 autobiography in which Turner detailed their relationship was titled I, Tina.
The journalist Kurt Loder, with whom she wrote the book, appears in the new documentary, as does Katori Hall, who co-wrote the 2019 Broadway musical about the singer’s life, also titled Tina.
Hall notes that the musician’s decision to claim her name in court during a divorce in which she got nothing else was its own rebellion against Ike: “You gave me this name,” she imagines Tina thinking then.
“But watch what I build with it.” There’s no shortage of works that detail or recreate the abuses the singer has suffered.
But Tina, importantly, also doesn’t lose sight of how she’s remade herself after her traumas with rigor and acumen.
The constant media coverage of Ike’s alleged abuse was not the only persistent tedium the singer faced.
Plenty of the documentary’s second act focuses on the barriers Tina encountered in trying to establish herself, explicitly, as a rock artist.
She speaks candidly about the calculated choices she made to push back against an industry that saw her as too Black to make “white” music, listeners who suggested that she was straying from her roots, and rock critics who accused her of toying recklessly with the genre.
She wonders aloud how listeners would have responded to her music if it had been released without her face—without any indication of the artist’s race—on the marketing materials.
“My dream was to be the first Black rock-and-roll singer to pack places like the [Rolling] Stones,” she muses.
Undoubtedly, many of the objections to Tina’s ascent were rooted in racist perceptions of who could lay claim to rock music.
One particularly revelatory moment in the documentary quotes the late John Carter, the Capitol Records executive who signed Tina as a solo artist, remembering the racist, vitriolic response of a label co-worker at the time.
But other industry players recognized that her artistry pointed clearly to the genre’s Black origins.
Though many of the most celebrated rock stars have been white men, its earliest pioneers were Black artists such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a multi-instrumentalist whose early-20th-century recordings brought the ecstatic expression of Black southern gospel to secular music.
Along with Black radio stations, the Black church shaped the musical stylings of white rockers such as Elvis Presley.
As the cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon writes in Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll, “Turner was arguably the genuine article, someone who had the vocal sound that white rock vocalists from Mick Jagger to Janis Joplin to Robert Plant to John Fogerty were trying to achieve.
She had the wrenching strain, the effortless rasp, the wails, volume, and passion, as well as the ability to somehow sound both hot and cool.”
The HBO film is certainly a celebratory work, but it doesn’t feel like a sterile product of image management.
In capturing the 81-year-old singer’s reflections while she is still alive to give them, Tina offers an intimate examination of what it means for any artist—and especially a Black woman whose music has challenged the narrow confines of genre—to create her own mythos.
It lets viewers, even those familiar with the arc of her career, appreciate the monumental work it took for Tina to make rock her own.
Tina Turner Tina Turner
Sat, 27 Mar 2021 01:00:00 -0700
In the film, the artist proves she's more than "the worst parts" of her life, even if others find inspiration there
“Tina Turner, the woman who taught Mick Jagger to dance, is on the prowl again.” This headline opens Carl Arrington’s 1981 interview with her for People magazine, a feature Turner hoped would serve as her official coming out announcement.
In “Tina” is it the dividing line in between her life as it was and the force she became.
Forty years ago, however, Turner hoped that by opening up to People she could provide a definitive response to all the queries about her ex-husband Ike, the man who made her second billing on the Ike & Tina Turner Revue and subjected her to horrific physical abuse for years.
Turner was ready to start her next chapter, a solo act to leave behind a past she desperately wanted to forget.
When that story led to curiosity of a morbid nature, Turner tried to set the record straight again with her 1986 autobiography “I, Tina,” co-authored with journalist Kurt Loder.
In the book’s 1993 cinematic adaptation “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” star Angela Bassett depicts the violence Tina Turner suffered onscreen along with her triumph; still, people kept wanting her to revisit her trauma.
The two-hour “Tina” is likely to be the diva’s last word and designed as a reverent look at a performer who refuses to allow her suffering to define her outrageous success.
In this respect Turner’s serenity is tempered but with a kind of contemplative acceptance some could mistake for sadness.
It isn’t quite that, though.
From her perch in American culture’s firmament she offers her regard of a career defined by a supercharged second act and a life tempered by pain with no qualifications or arrogance, only quiet wonder and gratitude.
Directors Daniel Lindsay and T.J.
Martin interviewed Turner in 2019 when she was 79 years old and secure in her status as one of modern music’s greats, and from a place of contentment.
At 81, Turner is living comfortably in Zurich with her husband Erwin Bach, an executive producer on the film and probably the reason Lindsay and Martin refrain from including any details regarding Turner’s recent health battles or her son Craig’s death by suicide in 2018.
They’d rather spin her story in that of a risen phoenix without hinting at decline or mortality, and after a life of curious questioners seeking to paint her as a woman overcoming instead of studying her work in its own light, a person can certainly understand that approach.
The directors don’t exactly overlook the miserable parts of Turner’s life either, devoting the first half of “Tina” to her early career and raucous blaze she created as the dancing front of the traveling revue.
That first hour is nirvana for anyone who treasures classic footage of Turner in her prime bellowing out “Proud Mary” or finding her roar on Phil Spector’s orchestral arrangement of “River Deep – Mountain High,” a 1966 track that flopped spectacularly in its day but stands the test of time.
Her detailed firsthand account of Ike’s abuse, shared via the unedited audio recording of that People magazine interview, plays beneath or beside footage of Turner onstage dancing wildly and shining brightly, and the contrast is jarring.
The story of Ike and Tina is one of an innocent falling under the spell of a charismatic talent who first regards her as a little sibling but soon sees her star quality, giving rise to an envy that twists their relationship into one of controlling violence.
Through Arrington’s audio Turner talks about her ex-husband beating her with hangers or a shoe stretcher.
In another violent interlude he throws scalding hot coffee on her, resulting in third degree burns.
She describe the abused person’s psychic dilemma: “I was afraid of him,” she says, “and I cared what happened to him.”
Eventually she finds an inner resolve through practicing Buddhism, she says, making her escape one night in Dallas by running across a highway.
In 2019 Turner likens it to pulling out old clothes: “It wasn’t a good life,” she offers.
“It was in some areas, but the goodness did not balance the bad.
So it’s like, not wanting to be reminded.”
The part we’d rather recall is the second chance we all know: her ’80s comeback that she defines as her true arrival, topping the charts with her 1984 single “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” becoming the oldest female solo artist to top the Hot 100 at that time.
By the end of “Tina” we see footage of her packing stadiums and arriving to the opening night of “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical,” with Bach on one arm and Oprah Winfrey on the other – proof that Turner’s star burns far more brightly than that of the man who cruelly manipulated her into thinking she was beneath him.
With documentaries as personal as this there’s always some element of hagiography about them.
The question is how much we care to penalize the creators or the subject for such an indulgence.
“Tina” makes it tough to do so because of the way Turner comes by her conclusions about life and specifically her life.
At various junctures she reveals an awareness that the name she bears is not the woman she is, that Tina Turner is a kind of fierce persona assigned to Anna Mae Bullock, a girl from Nutbush, Tenn.
Turner famously left her first marriage with nothing but her name and constructed all that she has today from that persona, an incredible story in itself.
But after all that, to hear her lament to Loder about living half of her life without finding true love and uncomfortably bearing her mantle as a survivor reminds us of her humanity..
“It’s hard to wrap your head around that the worst parts of your life have been an inspiration,” she says quiet in voiceover as archival video of women gushing their praises plays around it.
By framing all of the interviewees in the center of elegant rooms and Tina herself in one as expansive and simply grand as she is, Lindsay and Martin’s recent footage evokes a streamlined elegance that serves as a backdrop to the atomic force of Turner’s classic concerts, showing her sailing above audiences or vibrating furiously.
The fact that the filmmakers don’t overstuff the film with friends and experts lets her career and life speak for itself.
When you look at who is featured – Winfrey, Bassett, Loder, and Arrington, but also Katori Hall, who co-wrote Turner’s musical, and Roger Davies, the manager who catapulted her to solo stardom – there aren’t many more people who need to be brought in to tell her tale.
“Tina” doesn’t entirely decouple Ike from Turner’s story, a fact she knows is impossible and with which she comes to terms.
The two were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a unit in 1991.
Thankfully Turner is among the nominees to be inducted in 2021 as a solo act, and if she goes through she’ll join Stevie Nicks and possibly Carole King as the only female artists to be honored twice.
However that shakes out the truest statement at the end of “Tina” is when someone observes that Tina Turner is bigger than anything the woman herself could have dreamed of.
She belongs to the world.
And the hope and prayer at the end of it all is that Anna Mae Bullock knows that affection belongs to the woman she created and is, and it’s as genuine as the moniker she built into a legend.
“Tina” premieres Saturday, March 27 at 8 p.m.
on HBO and will be available to stream on HBO Max.
Melanie McFarland is Salon’s TV critic.
Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision
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– March 27, 2021