Listen, Tina Turner hates Ike Turner. Still. After all these years. For good reason.
You thought we knew all about the torture she endured from him. There was the Kurt Loder book, the award winning movie with Angela Bassett, a thousand interviews, and then the Broadway musical in November 2019.
I interviewed Tina in 1993 for the cover of the NY Daily News Sunday magazine and she was so gracious and endearing I wanted to keep her safe. Even then, more than a decade after her escape from Ike, she still seemed vulnerable.
So this new film, which aired on HBO inexplicably on the first night of Passover (they couldn’t wait?), directed by Dan Lindsay, T.J. Martin seemed to me a little unnecessary. And everything I read about it pointed in that direction. Everyone who saw it in advance felt like they knew the story, what was left to say?
Well, a lot as it turns out. “Tina” really doesn’t expand too much on Turner’s life past her comeback and rise to massive success. A lot of the comments I read complained about that. Tina’s been in retirement for a while, what’s she up to? How is her health after all? That is not addressed.
Tina sits in a nice looking chair and answers some questions, but mostly the documentary relies on old interviews. One was from 1981 with People magazine’s Carl Arrington, who kept his audio tapes. Then there are tapes from Kurt Loder, interviews with him, with her old manager and so on.
Why did she do this? By the time you’ve read the book, seen the movie, and Adrienne Warren’s fiery performance in the musical, isn’t that enough? Well, when Tina came to the opening night of the musical, she was very fragile. During intermission, Oprah whisked her away to a private room. When the show was over, Tina did appear on stage and we thought we’d see her at the after-party. But she went home, and was not seen again.
Maybe the show was too much for her to revisit the story of how she left Ike after 16 years of violence. This documentary drills down into the details of that torture in unexpected ways. Tina, as always, is disarming. But footage of Ike, a brilliant musician, reveal his monstrousness and cluelessness. Well after Tina left him, someone asks Ike why she left, what went wrong? He is opaque. He has no idea. He says, “She must have been unhappy.” Uh, yeah.
So it’s not that we learn anything new, but perhaps we get a richer understanding of how Tina lived, what her genius was, and how, thank god, she reclaimed it. I was thinking that the difference between Tina and Aretha Franklin, who was just portrayed in the “Genius” miniseries, is so stark. Aretha hid her dark secrets and didn’t want to share them. She walled herself in.
Tina, on the other hand, does not want anyone to forget what she went through. I think it’s not just for herself, although that seems important. Her treatment at Ike’s hands is a cautionary tale. There’s so much violence against women in the news now– murders, missing persons, all boyfriends and ex husbands and husbands responsible — that the Ike story is worth retelling for anyone who may be in trouble.
My nitpick: the music is all good, but the directors missed the real turning point of Tina’s comeback. Manager Roger Davies took her to England and put her with producer Martyn Ware of Heaven 17 and Human League. It was 1983 when their single and video of Al Green’s reworked “Let’s Stay Together” was released. It was stunning. That release predated the Big Comeback, it’s what got everyone stoked. It was a bigger hit than Al Green’s version. “Private Dancer” and all that followed a few months later. They also recorded a slow version of the Beatles’ “Help,” that still kills.
The directors also don’t explain that it was Tina who decided back in 1971 to re-work John Fogerty’s “Proud Mary,” create that slow sensual opening followed by the rip roaring chaotic dance number. I wish they’d asked her more about how she created her sound, one very different than the Ike and Tina Revue. That’s a missed opportunity. But kudos to all. Just next time, wait til the Seder is over.