Honest confession: watching Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin’s documentary Tina unleashed the nostalgia within me. As a child of the 80s, her ‘arrival’ (she doesn’t call it a comeback) brought back memories. It was the sensation of being in awe of Tina Turner as a child – the whirlwind of wild, gorgeous energy as she dominates the stage. It’s memories of me as a child performing a (terrible) impression of ‘The Best’, singing and dancing to my mother’s amusement. For an artist who has the best legs in the business, I wanted to emulate them (a task which I haven’t lived up to yet). ‘Proud Mary’ is still my ‘go-to’ karaoke track (dance moves included). And even though Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome isn’t the greatest Mad Max adventure, I bet you’ll find ‘We Don’t Need Another Hero’ irresistible to sing to.
For such an illustrious career, it’s amazing that it has taken this long for there to be a documentary about Tina Turner. But the payoff is worth the wait, made with her full cooperation and featuring the legend herself. And if there was ever going to be a lasting testament to her life, no one else could tell it besides her.
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But amongst the nostalgia, there is a notable feeling of goodbye, closing that final chapter on a legacy that has defined many generations, including my own. For die-hard fans, the revelations from an artist whose parents were sharecroppers, who built her career through absolute torment to reinvent herself as a cultural megastar, is well-documented. The documentary draws upon her own words, audiotapes from her 1981 interview with People Magazine, her biography I, Tina and even the brief inclusion of What’s Love Got to Do with It (its lead star Angela Bassett features in the documentary). But this time around, Tina’s five-chapter odyssey takes on a different aura and context.
You can sense the hesitancy and apprehension right from the beginning. In a genre-crossing career spanning decades, this iteration of Tina is reconciling with the past despite the challenges it brings. The truth is, who can blame her? It’s essentially re-opening the ‘Pandora’s Box’ of triggering emotions and scars still healing. She describes it as not wanting to “pull out old clothes”, and yet the desperation for peace, to move forward from the conversation is evident. There’s no doubt, even when this documentary finishes its festival circuit and enters the mainstream, those same old wounds will resurface once more, amplified by a generation who are experiencing her truth for the first time. And in the era of #MeToo, Tina’s multi-faceted story is still significantly relevant, making her journey all that more powerful and endearing.
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It’s worth mentioning that Lindsay and Martin’s documentary is not solely about Tina’s turbulent relationship at the hands of Ike Turner (although he weaves in and out of the story like a bitter aftertaste). There are genuine moments of euphoria, spliced together with archival performance clips of the superstar in her element, commanding sold-out arenas across the globe. Her biggest and most recognisable hits from her discography have dedicated moments of insight. Something like ‘What’s Love Got to Do with It’, one of Tina’s biggest hits, was not a song she immediately warmed to! But it’s a great reminder of the immense joy and personality she brings, and the documentary takes considerable time to celebrate those cornerstone achievements.
But its transitions between the musical highlights and Tina’s life can often feel like you’re going through a whiplash of emotions when you hear accounts of her “living a life of death” – a dark underbelly that’s forever conjoined by the hit music she performed to. And in this day and age of greater accountability, Tina – in its subtlety – does ask a lingering question of whether you can separate the genius art from the talent.
The documentary doesn’t cover Ike Turner in any good grace whatsoever. It’s prepared to acknowledge the excuses for the fear and jealously that was intrinsically tied to the suffering towards his wife (linking it back to ‘Rocket 88’ in 1951 – the first Rock & Roll song where the accreditation went to his saxophone player). But the complete domination and gaslighting of Tina (including her appearance, name and wealth), no matter what words I use, will never come close to describing the sickening treatment of physical, sexual and verbal abuse she faced. The feeling is only compounded by the lack of accountability by Ike in one interview, blaming the victim for seeking “attention”.
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You get the sense that there are more excruciating and harrowing details which the documentary alludes to but opts to not reveal, instead focusing on the key integers of Tina’s life story. For instance, the psychological strain on Tina’s children who grew up witnessing that cocktail of abuse and trauma gets a brief mention but is never pursued to greater depth (despite the real-life tragedy involving her son Craig Turner). There’s a lot to cram into its tightly woven, near two-hour run-time. But there’s an inescapable, brutal honesty that envelops it, and with the words coming directly from Tina, they cut through like a knife. And perhaps, maybe some of those truths – even for her – are just too much to go through those doors again and revisit.
What Lindsay and Martin do (as sensitively as possible) is build an adequate yet ample picture, allowing for those thoughts to manifest. Its haunting presence also ties in with the removal of such arguments by ignorant voices who refuse to accept the dangerous plight faced by women in toxic relationships. It manages to encompass Tina’s youthful vulnerability, dealing with image perception as a child (eliciting conversations about the importance of seeing yourself reflected in media), to the insensitive interview questions in archival clips where hosts were unable to separate her from Ike’s actions at the expense of her own trauma. Similar to past music documentaries such as Kevin Macdonald’s Whitney, Asif Kapadia’s Amy or the recent Britney Spears documentary, they pull back the curtain on those seminal moments that was a sign of the culture but also our societal compliance and acceptance in normalising those actions. With Tina leading the conversation, the documentary breaks down the various manipulation tactics on how abusers wield their power and control (including its public perception) and the paralysing fear that silently dominated her life.
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But when that mask of ‘diplomacy’ falls, where she’s frank and open about the realities of her life, that’s when Tina takes on another layered dynamic. You admire the life-affirming resilience that transformed her into an unstoppable force. It feels like justice, and the documentary revels in that fact.
It becomes indicative of what Tina Turner symbolises; a resounding source of defiance for an artist who refused to be categorised, establishing her own image and identity. It makes Tina a captivating and fitting tribute to beloved musical royalty. It fulfils every embodiment of survival, but also the reclamation of self-love, spiritualism and empowerment, infused by the music that we know and love by heart.
And as the documentary ultimately defines it, Tina will forever be ‘simply the best’.