American singer Tina Turner’s death on May 24 unleashed a flood of tributes to her raspy voice, electric stage performances and boundless charisma – but most of all to her bravery. Turner overcame a hardscrabble childhood, domestic violence and a fallow professional period before becoming one of the most recognised singers of all time. The documentary Tina (2021), which can be rented on Prime Video, is as good a place as any to revisit Turner’s singular life.

Directed by Dan Lindsay and TJ Martin, Tina moves back and forth in time, featuring both archival interviews as well as conversations in the present with Turner and others. It begins with a typically rambunctious live show. The 118-minute film makes judicious use of Turner’s stage performances, contrasting the artist effortlessly commanding attention in the arena with the woman who was abused for years by her husband, the celebrated musician Ike Turner.

The film gets its leitmotif from the very aspect of Turner’s past that she was loath to revisit. The beatings and marital rapes that Turner endured – which she likened to torture – finally prompted her to flee the marriage. Her decision to speak out about her experiences in 1981 in a magazine interview – a rare occurrence in the pre-MeToo age – was prompted by her desire to deal with the trauma and move on.

Even as Turner sought to reinvent herself as a rock star in her forties, questions about her troubled marriage did not leave her. The film attempts to strike a balance – not always successfully achieved – between fixing Turner as an exemplary survivor and focusing on her musical talents.

What’s Love Got to Do with It, Tina Turner.

As it turns out, Turner’s toughness, honesty and humility were inseparable from her music, as the film reveals. The most fascinating portions in Tina reveal the efforts to re-position Turner by giving her a new image, the making of her chart-topping album Private Dancer in 1984, and her subsequent fame. The importance given to archiving in the American and British entertainment industries means that there are even low-quality clips of Turner in a recording studio rehearsing her most famous song, What’s Love Got to Do with It.

Among Turner’s greatest survival hacks was retaining her stage name. Born Anna Mae Bullock, she was rechristened by Ike Turner. He didn’t bother to inform her. Their divorce left Tina Turner with almost nothing – but also the most important thing for her subsequent career.

At the final divorce proceedings, Turner she told the judge that all she wanted was the right to continue to perform as “Tina Turner”. More than anything else in the documentary, this anecdote reveals Turner’s irrepressible and inspirational spirit.

Tina (2021).

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