Review: Tina Turner documentary tells such a harrowing, awful story that it becomes inspiring

0
13
Tina Turner, in an interview for “Tina,” the new HBO documentary. Photo: HBO

“Tina” doesn’t just tell you all about Tina Turner. It makes you feel like you know her, personally, and it gives you some sense of what it was like to live her life. To say that she had it rough is not enough. For decades, it was a loveless nightmare.

The new HBO documentary — which airs on HBO and HBO Max 8 p.m. Saturday, March 27 (on demand Sunday, March 28) — hits the familiar points of Turner’s story — discovery by musician Ike Turner, the domestic abuse, the years in the wilderness followed by the massive comeback — but it does so in illuminating detail. Along the way, there’s Turner herself, telling her story in both archival and recent interviews. Considering everything she’s been through, she’s remarkably even-keeled.

Hers is a sobering story, but inspiring, too. What makes it inspiring is Tina Turner’s unaccountable ability to survive. When she was growing up in Tennessee, Tina’s mother left the family. Then her father left, so she had to grow up quickly. Somehow, she had acquired ambition. Turner recalls seeing a magazine photo of Paris’ Champs-Elysees and thinking, “The world. That’s where I want to go.”

Her ticket to the bigger world came when she was still a teenager. She auditioned for Ike Turner and joined his band, and everything was fine, until they married and he started beating her. He’d beat her with a coat hanger or a shoe stretcher, and then he’d have sex with her. Just sick. She was terrified of him, and this went on for years.

At a time when Turner was an influential and successful singer — an inspiration to younger talents such as Mick Jagger and Janis Joplin — she was living the life of a prisoner. “I lived a shameful lie,” she says, with characteristic incite. “And I found a way to live with it by being ashamed.”

Look in her eyes circa 1968, even when she’s smiling. Then look at her closely, in the first flush of solo success in mid-1980s. Her spirit goes from heavy to buoyant, from fearful to realized.

As the documentary makes clear, two escape attempts define Turner’s life. The first was her successful escape from her marriage. The second was her unsuccessful attempt to escape the story of her marriage — or as she puts it, “the ridiculously embarrassing story of my life.”

In 1981, she told People magazine about Ike’s abuse, hoping to put it behind her. But three years later, following the success of her album, “Private Dancer,” all the press wanted to ask her about was Ike. Imagine getting a question like this on national television: “When you were married to Ike, what was the absolute worst moment?”

Tina Turner in concert in Versailles, France, in 1990. Photo: HBO, Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

The irony, which Turner seems to ruefully understand, is that the Ike story has become part of her legend. It’s part of what people like and admire about her, and it almost certainly added to the universal excitement that attended her great successes in the 1980s. After all, the audiences that filled entire stadiums weren’t there just to see a performer.  They were there to see a person and share in her triumph, as if they themselves had a stake in it.

In the end, what might be most admirable about Tina Turner is that she has never basked in the commodification of her victimhood. The documentary shows her at a press conference for “What’s Love Got to Do with It” (1993), saying that she hadn’t yet seen the movie about her life. She said she didn’t want to go through all that again.

But we want to go Tina Turner’s life again, at least when the documentary is as good as this one.

N“Tina”: Documentary. Starring Tina Turner. Directed by Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin. (Not rated. 118 minutes.) Airs on HBO and HBO Max 8 p.m. Saturday, March 27.  On demand starting Sunday, March 28.

 



LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here