My relationship with Tina Turner’s music predominantly consisted of line dancing to her bouncing track Nutbush City Limits at Bar Mitzvah’s, which always followed the Macarena. With her raspy roar magnifying the emotional strain on each word, Tina Turner’s voice has mesmerized for years. Her story became a public circus and impeded interviews about her music. She reached superstardom by surviving an abusive relationship with Ike Turner. At 45, she entranced audiences with what she considers to be her debut album, the acclaimed Private Dancer.
The new documentary on HBO Max traces Tina’s story across five chapters. We’re introduced to her relationship with Ike, who she met one day when she attended one of his concerts after her parents had left with no indication of where they’d gone. Ike, who had faced challenges in his career to receive the credit he deserved, heard Tina sing, and he knew he had struck gold. With dollar signs in his eyes, he used a young, naive Tina and kept her for himself.
The relationship devolved into Tina suffering horrible abuse, which is told in heartbreaking detail in this documentary. As Ike’s abuse escalated, their children witnessed the assaults. Even acclaimed record producer Phil Spector barred Ike Turner from entering the studio while recording River Deep, Mountain High with Tina.
We’re treated to interviews with Tina at her Zurich home, which she shares with her husband, Erwin Bach. We hear tape recordings of her interviews with Kurt Loder, co-author of her memoir I, Tina, which help to get a sense of Tina’s frame of mind while recalling these events. Directors Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin make a great decision here: they rely on these testimonies and conversations rather than sitting down with psychotherapists or celebrities adjacent to Tina Turner. It’s mainly her words and those of her manager and former backup singers who litter the proceedings with details.
The interviews consistently acknowledge Tina Turner’s confidence, unmatched motivation, and commitment. She had spent years with Ike, and it was time to set sail for herself and become the star everyone knew she ought to be.
What’s most compelling about this new documentary is Turner’s willingness to be upfront and open (as she has been for many years) but to remember Private Dancer as a triumphant record. She fulfilled her dreams of selling out stadiums like The Rolling Stones, and each song bounced through the billboard charts leading to her grammy wins, including for Record of the Year.
Lindsay and Martin also allow archival concert footage to play out, giving anyone a taste of Tina’s prowess on stage. We see the exhaustion on her face as she sings her cover of the Beatle’s Help!, unrelenting in her energy and her words beaming through the microphone to the massive crowds. Music biopics often leave performances after the first chorus, but not here. This is a recollection of events in Tina’s life, and her performances are the main course.
After watching the doc, I took the time to listen to Private Dancer in full for the first time. The opening track, I Might’ve Been a Queen, sets the scene for her debut album, with Tina singing against her backup singers, shouting to the heavens that ‘I look through it all, and my future is no shock to me. I look down, but I see no tragedy.’ The lyrics seem to mirror the media storm when Tina opened up about her relationship with Ike in public. Everyone wanted answers to whether she still stays in contact with Ike, if she sees him, or about her family dynamics.
Throughout the Private Dancer album, Tina reminds her fans that she never disappeared, and on the track Show Some Respect, she reiterates that ‘we’ve got to show some respect; we’ve got to learn to protect.’ We look at the culture today doing what she was forty years ago. Tina Turner was able to turn her life around to what she had always envisioned, tearing into songs with nothing left on stage.
She gives it her all.