Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin co-directed the sports documentary Undefeated in 2011 and their Berlin Film Festival Special Gala, Tina, could have shared the same title. While this is set in the world of music, the emphasis is on the resilience, survival, and 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 biography – produced by Turner’s husband, Erwin Bach – but it has enough panache and insight to be entertaining and enlightening.
The film begins with the 1981 People Magazine 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.”
She was right, of course, but it was quite a journey. The story goes back to Turner’s teenage years, when filmmakers put their life in a cultural context and use popular media imagery to depict the world she grew up in. We see Fashion Models and recordings of glamorous film 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 of Oprah mentions the 50,000 letters the television 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 What does love have to do with it?.
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 series of enormous obstacles ranging from hardship to racism to abuse.
In contrast to Asif Kapadia WhitneyThis doesn’t examine in detail the musical abilities of its subject 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 – though it was originally recorded by British bubblegum pop group Bucks Fizz. Tina seems to make everything her own.
Tina Premiere on HBO in the US on March 27th.