Tina might not be as encompassing as some viewers might like, but the result is a moving, celebratory tribute doc all the same.
One of the many illuminating stories told in Tina, Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin’s softly conventional but intensely moving docu-portrait of rock icon Tina Turner, concerns the creation of what would become her signature song, “What’s Love Got to Do With It.” Co-writer and producer Terry Britten recalls in the film that the song was presented to Turner as an admittedly shitty demo, and that Tina absolutely hated it. Despite that, her manager Roger Davies convinced her to give it a try as they were putting together her 1984 album Private Dancer in the UK, which was eventually completed in just three weeks. Ever the consummate musical alchemist, Tina turned this slice of ’80s British new wave cheese into deeply resonant autobiography, the yearning, passionate grit of her vocals exhuming layers of emotion not immediately evident in the lyrics alone.
“What’s Love Got to Do With It” is a rather cynical anti-love song, in which the narrator proposes to her lover a relationship based solely on fucking, without letting emotions get in the way: “What’s love got to do, got to do with it? / What’s love but a second-hand emotion? / What’s love got to do, got to do with it? / Who needs a heart, when a heart can be broken?” That last line is key, and Tina Turner emphasizes it, conveying many years of pain, heartbreak, and hard-lived experience with those fervently-sung lyrics. The track, as well as the Private Dancer album as a whole, was a smash, giving Tina Turner her first and only #1 pop hit in the US, and making her the oldest woman (at 44) to achieve this up to that point.
This was the culmination of a project often dubbed Turner’s “comeback,” but as Tina herself rightly points out in the film, it was actually a debut, since she never really had control of her life or music career before the success of the album. Leading to this point were many years of horrific physical abuse and rape at the hands of her partner Ike Turner, which the film meticulously documents in stomach-churning detail. Even after Tina finally escaped Ike’s clutches with just 36 cents, a gas card, and the clothes on her back, she continued to be defined by this horrible history. Her multiple efforts to set the story straight and get prying questioners off her back — including telling her story to People magazine, co-writing a memoir with MTV’s Kurt Loder, and later adapting that into a biopic bearing the title of her signature song — only intensified media interest in her personal story, forcing her to continually relive it, contributing to her PTSD and saddling her with the unwanted shadow of Ike. A particularly egregious example of this shown in the film involves an interviewer asking Tina’s opinion about Ike’s recent arrest for drug possession, as if she’s supposed to give a single, solitary fuck about an abusive, trauma-inducing ex-husband she’d left behind decades earlier.
Although one wishes Tina focused more on its subject’s actual music, it remains a welcome reminder of the performer’s immense talent and massive influence — it’s not hard to trace her legacy, for example, straight to another Southern-born world-conquering musical icon, Beyoncé Knowles, but the film doesn’t much concern itself with such narrative angles. Instead, this documentary, as well as the accompanying Broadway show based on Tina’s life — both sharing the same first name of their subject — reflects Turner’s attempt to finally put punctuation on a remarkable life story that at long last has a happy ending. What Tina understands and communicates is that if anyone richly deserves to ride off into the sunset in peace and contentment, it’s the great Tina Turner.