This intelligent and nuanced profile of rock and R&B singer Tina Turner delves much deeper than might be expected of an artist-endorsed documentary, mainly thanks to Turner's thoughtful and grounded observations.
Tennessee-born Anna Mae Bullock was a teenager when she joined bandleader/songwriter/musician Ike Turner’s band the Kings of Rhythm. Audiences were dazzled by the band’s tight performances and Bullock’s raw talent and firecracker energy. In 1960 Ike renamed the singer Tina (inspired by ‘Sheena Queen of the Jungle’ apparently) and they began touring as the Ike and Tina Turner Revue. But Ike was a possessive and paranoid figure: his 1951 single ‘Rocket 88’ (cited as the first rock n roll song) had been credited to another artist on its release, leaving Turner determined to never let a collaborator score success only to abandon him again. Tina promised she would stick with him, but then suffered years of well-documented mental and physical abuse at Ike’s hands.
She eventually left him in 1976, an incident related in traumatic detail by the singer in voiceover. Las Vegas residencies and guest TV appearances followed, but the artist, who had ambitions to be a rock frontwoman in the Mick Jagger mold, felt frustrated and rudderless. She found a new impetus in the early 80s when she moved to the UK, and hooked up with modern musicians for a radio-friendly AOR sound. (Heaven 17 who had a role in relaunching her career go uncredited again, alas) and stadium-filling success followed.
The picture features some great live recordings, including presumably rare and hysterically exciting footage of early Revue performances, (as well as some mulletty 80s stuff if you’re that way inclined), but refreshingly eschews an easy triumph over adversity narrative in favour of something far more interesting and measured. Even Tina’s huge success in the 80s was tinged with disillusionment, she reveals, as interviewers continued to grill her on her relationship with Ike, despite her writing biography ‘I Tina’ in 1986, specifically to put that particular part of her life to bed.
Tina, now happily married and living in Switzerland, closes the film with a statement that the documentary is intended as a valedictory account of her career. If so, it’s a fitting one.
Tina is screening 5-8 March at Glasgow Film Festival then on Sky Documentaries and via Altitude Film on March 28th.