Dan Lindsay and TJ Martin co-directed the sports documentary Undefeated in 2011, and their special Berlin Film Festival gala, Tina, could have had the same title. While this is set in the world of music, the emphasis is on resilience, survival, and the comeback of its subject, singer Tina Turner. The title of HBO Documentary Films features a contemporary interview with Turner himself and mixes speaking heads with archive interviews and footage to paint a vivid picture of a musical legend. This is clearly an authorized bio – it’s produced by Turner’s husband, Erwin Bach – but it has enough oomph and insight to be entertaining and enlightening.
The film opens with People magazine’s 1981 interview in which Tina revealed that she had been molested by her former husband and musical partner, the late Ike Turner. At the beginning of her contemporary interview, Tina said she had concerns about speaking out at the time and asked her clairvoyant what was going to happen. The clairvoyant assured her that it would be a new beginning: “It will all break open wide.”
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She was right, of course, but it was quite a journey. The story goes back to Turner’s teenage years, when the filmmakers put their life in a cultural context and use popular media images to show the world in which she grew up. We see Vogue models and shots of glamorous movie stars – all influences on the young Tina, who dreamed of being a performer. Extensive archive footage shows how she became famous with Ike, and shocking audio interviews with Tina and family members describe the abuse. Then there is the heartbreaking story of how Tina’s parents abandoned her and her siblings as children. Instead of reconstructing with actors, such events are illustrated by empty rooms and furniture that allow us to imagine the scene and create a sense of loss.
Several clips highlight how hard it was for Tina to come out as a domestic abuse survivor, but how this helped other women. A clip from Oprah mentions the 50,000 letters the TV show received from viewers that could relate to its story. A large part of Turner’s life at the time was manager Roger Davies, who makes thoughtful contributions along with respondents including Oprah Winfrey and Angela Bassett, who played the star in 1993.
A joyful, playful tone is struck when Turner tells the story of her romance with Bach, who also shares his side of the story. When a camera takes us through her palatial home, it runs a little too close to the territory of the celebrity magazine. But the purpose is clear: to show us how far Turner has come despite a number of enormous obstacles ranging from hardship to racism to abuse.
Unlike, for example, Asif Kapadias Whitney, the musical abilities of the subject are not examined in detail here, and that’s a shame. But there’s no shortage of fast-paced, high-energy clips that showcase their voice, dance, and skills – and there’s fun musical trivia too. “What does love have to do with it?” was one of Turner’s biggest hits during their comeback in the 80s – but it was originally recorded by British bubblegum pop group Bucks Fizz. Tina seems to make everything her own.
Tina premieres on HBO in the US on March 27th.