At the Movies Blog

Tina Turner in the studio, where even there Ike was abusive.

I was a freshman in high school in 1984 when Tina Turner broke big. Well, broke big for the first time that I had ever heard of her. It would be a few years later before I discovered her stuff with Ike. I remember thinking, “Wait…someone did Proud Mary before CCR?” 

And when I heard River Deep, Mountain High…I was blown away. What an amazing song [Tina Turner Fun Fact: That was produced by Phil Spector]. As a teenager in the ‘80s discovering Turner had a musical past, gave me mixed feelings on her Private Dancer album. On one hand, I loved that she was finding success again. When MTV was showing female singers like Madonna, who was prancing around in a bra…or Cyndi Lauper with wacky hair…or singers that were more dancers than actual singers (Paula Abdul, Janet Jackson, etc)…it was nice to see the older,  serious Turner strut across the street asking, “What’s love got to do, got to do with it?”

What I didn’t like was…these songs kind of stripped away the powerful Southern soul. There was nothing wrong with the songs. They were all serviceable pop tunes. She sounded okay covering Al Green (Let’s Stay Together) and Bowie (1984). My favorite song was the title track, Private Dancer [TTFF: That was a Dire Straits song, and Jeff Beck plays the solo on this version]. It would be almost two decades later when I’d see her in concert in San Diego with Lionel Richie, and that was the best song (and set design, dance). But I digress.

I hadn’t seen or heard anything from Turner in awhile, and she’s 81 now, seemingly retired from the public eye. So her husband [TTFF: he’s 20 years younger] produced this documentary, telling her story. This includes the story she had grown tired of talking about in the ‘80s — the abuse she endured at the hands of Ike Turner. 

It was interesting to learn that Ike and Tina Turner weren’t rolling in dough for a long time. They often worked multiple shows in one night, and a few of the former band members and Ikettes share their insights [TTFF: One of the Ikettes does all the singing in the much nominated Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom]. It’s unfortunate that we don’t get more talking heads. There’s Kurt Loder, who never impressed me back in his MTV days, and less so as a movie critic now (although he was the one that talked Tina into writing the book I, Tina where he served as co-writer). We also hear from Oprah Winfrey, because…well, she’s Oprah. If she wants to comment on an artist she likes, you get her. I was wondering why we didn’t hear from Mick Jagger, since…she had the “moves like Jagger” even before he did. She’s sung with Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart, Tom Jones, Bruce Willis, Eric Clapton, Elton John, and many others. Not one of them could be bothered to comment? 

Yet it’s an enjoyable documentary. The archival footage is terrific, as we see Ike and Tina Turner on stage, in the studio, or on talk shows. She’s easily one of the Top 5 sexiest vocalists of all time. Arguably #1, with her charisma and long legs.

You’ll be moved to tears listening to her talk about how her mother abandoned her as a child, and later, tears of joy when you hear about her success, after a record company almost dropped her in the early ‘80s. She had been doing a cabaret show, and appearing on game shows like Hollywood Squares…yet told her new manager she wanted to fill stadiums like the Rolling Stones. He figured that wouldn’t happen, but they went to England and made a record. She even hated the cheesy song from a British band that she was attempting to cover (What’s Love Got To Do With It?). 

It was baffling to see how Ike Turner got so much in their divorce (well, he got everything; she got to keep her name, and her kids, as well as his kids). It’s very satisfying to realize that he had to watch her play to huge crowds, while he was living in Vista.

Some of the stories are great to hear, even if I was waiting for Phil Spector and Ike to come to blows in the studio.

The concert footage really captures her energy, even if the current interviews she did for this sort of showed a lack of interest in telling these stories yet again. 

There’s also a terrific clip of her sitting next to Mel Gibson, to discuss the film Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. When a reporter asks about Ike’s abuse, Gibson looks down, and the look on his face is hysterical. Although…when you think about his history of domestic abuse and racial rants …perhaps it’s more uncomfortable for the viewer than hysterical.

Angela Bassett looks a bit uncomfortable when they’re promoting the movie What’s Love Got To Do With It and a reporter asks Turner what she thinks of the film and she said she hasn’t seen it, and why would she want to watch it, and see all the violence she experienced depicted?

The documentary doesn’t tell us why Turner renounced her American citizenship and moved to Switzerland in the mid-90s.

We don’t find out anything about her life-threatening health issues (which were covered in a book a few years ago), or that her long-time boyfriend (and recent husband) donated a kidney to her.

I would have also liked to have heard her comment on the James Bond theme for GoldenEye [TTFF: It was written by the Edge and Bono of U2].

As a fan of The Who, I would have liked to have heard her talk about playing the Acid Queen in Tommy

Overall, I felt about this rock doc, the way I felt about the Private Dancer album — it’s pleasant. You’re not disappointed watching it, but you can’t shake the feeling that it could’ve been so much more.

3 stars out of 5 and it’s streaming on HBO Max.

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