The documentary doesn’t rely on social-worker talking-heads to explain why women stay in abusive situations (just one example of how the doc could have gone wrong). Instead, it sticks with Turner’s experiences, through home movie footage, archival interviews with one of her sons as well as Ike himself. Most powerfully, there are clips of Ike and Tina (and the Ikettes) performing, on television, in clubs, and Lindsay and Martin have made the choice to let these performances play out, almost in full. (This is true throughout the documentary.) You can’t understand Tina Turner fully if you haven’t see her in her “act” with Ike, and the way she attacked those stages in a primal powerful truly thrilling way, whirling with the Ikettes in bright yellow and pink dresses, whipping the audiences into a frenzy. Tina’s voice came from her guts.
Later performances also play out in full. She does an overwhelming rendition of “Help!”, in front of a packed stadium, but it has the intimacy of a one-to-one interaction, as Tina howls out her confession of pain, her literal cry for help. So many documentaries cut away from performances, thinking we only want a glimpse of it to get the gist before shuttling on to the next thing. What a joy to be given the space to settle in and let Tina take you where she wants you to go.
The issue of the abuse she suffered at the hands of Ike wasn’t really known by the public until she decided to tell the story to People magazine in 1981. Ever since, she has been dogged by questions about it, even as her solo reputation soared into multi-platinum status. This not only frustrated her, but re-traumatized her all over again. She speaks very movingly of this. Her book was written, in part, to tell the story herself in the hopes that it would close the subject. Of course people were even more impertinent and curious. The 1993 movie “What’s Love Got to Do With It?”, starring Angela Bassett (who was interviewed for the documentary), and Laurence Fishburne as Ike, brought the toxic relationship once again back to the forefront, leading to another press tour where she had to answer disgusting questions like: “What was the worst part of the abuse?”
In 2019, Tina: The Tina Turner Musical opened on Broadway and Tina, on the arm of Oprah Winfrey, attended. Throngs of people clamored around her limousine when she arrived, and the ovation she received when she entered the theatre could have been heard in Albany. Tina Turner is 80 years old now. She’s retired. She says that her attendance that night was “a goodbye to her American fans.” There’s a sadness in this, something the documentary allows for, even encourages. As Bassett says, in her emotional interview, “That’s what happens to icons. Tina Turner belongs to the world.”
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