Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Doc Watch: Tina (2021)

Watched:  03/29/2021
Format:  HBOmax
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2020's

I've never been a hardcore Tina Turner fan, but like everyone of my generation I am familiar with her work, and have some idea of her pre Private Dancer life through cultural osmosis.  The first one of her albums I ever purchased was greatest hits collection, Simply the Best because I *loved* "Simply the Best" as a song, and figured "can't hurt to own the greatest hits".  And I have no timeline of how I came to really understand Tina Turner's story.  I *do* remember watching the video for "What's Love Got To Do With It?" and my parents sort of watching in amazement that (a) Tina Turner was on MTV and (b) their kids, 9 and 11, were like "this Tina Turner seems cool".  And then my folks saying something about a creep of an ex-husband.

And, we lost our minds over how cool she was in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.  And she is.  Go back and watch it.    

I confess, I never had much affinity for biopics - 2 hours is not enough time to show a life, let alone how botched the movies tend to be vis-a-vis actual facts (which are always more interesting than the invention of the movie) - and I wasn't super interested in watching someone dressed up as Tina Turner get beat up for two hours.  But hearing about the movie is how I came to understand exactly how bad Ike Turner had been.  But I've still never seen What's Love Got to Do With It.

It seems I'm not alone in this opinion.  

Tina (2021) is a roughly two hour doc that uses intervies, original and archival, that charts Tina Turner's course from abandoned child in Nutbush, Tennessee to living in Zurch with her dedicated husband.  And it's a goddamn shattering ride.  And, as it turns out, possibly Turner's final word on her life to the public.  

Which fits.  I did hear years ago that Turner had retired, and a disbelieving reporter had pressed her on it - that surely she'd come back - and she basically shrugged it off and said "I've done plenty of entertaining other people".  And she has.  

Of the many amazing bits about the doc is that Turner was in front of cameras from almost the beginning.  So, while there's no film footage of the earliest days of her partnership with Ike back in 59' or so (she was about 17), there's footage of her shortly after.  And tons and tons of footage of the electrifying stage show which made them famous.  

And, pretty much, up to just beyond 2000.  

Structurally, the doc is semi-non-linear, bringing in what you know, filling in details, and then rolling in details of what you may not know.  In this era of Podcasts, it's not impossible to simply listen to the doc - and not look up.  There's plenty of footage that equates to still shots or archival footage that is useful but not necessary to understand the moment described.  But other parts are visually disarming, not the lest of which is 16mm footage of the Turner household of the 1970's alongside footage of the house as it is - abandoned, decaying, and empty.*  

The parade of faces in the doc is interesting.  Certainly Turner is front and center - but to see Kurt Loder and realize what an impact the guy had on 20th century music history was fascinating (when he wasn't using his news break moments on MTV to try and tell Madonna he thinks she's pretty).  And I finally got my questions answered regarding who the hell this Swiss guy was who married Tina Turner a few years back.  But also back-up singers, bandmates, managers, and more.  Archival interviews include Turner's deceased son, and even her mother and Ike.  It's an incredibly well-rounded way to handle the format.

If the doc is laden with messages, and it is, one is most certainly that the press needs to allow their subjects to move on from trauma.  This seems a bit at odds with how much of the doc focuses on the trauma, how it started, the severity and duration of it, and show she finally escaped.  And, triumphantly, found out she was an even bigger star (as big as it gets, really) just as Tina Turner, minus the husband.  

But it does firmly make the point that asking someone over and over and over - for decades - about something they don't want to talk about, especially something traumatic, is near abuse.  And something she had to do to play ball to keep the publicity train going.  In it's own way, the doc doesn't quite say, but certainly seems to be giving the press a hard-stare about, how they seemed to delight in wading through the trauma, collectively becoming their own source of abuse.

Fortunately, the doc pushes past the years of Ike, and into the "starting over from scratch" years and the people who came along, excited to help her.  And, of course, when she meets her unlikely Swiss husband, who seems like a good guy who is still surprised to be married to Tina Turner - you do, eventually, get the happy ending.  This is the part where I came in at age 9, so it's also the Tina Turner I know from television and radio.  And it's almost a visceral reaction to see those stadiums who turned out for Turner.

And maybe that's the version she wants out there - not the one that ends with a court case. 

There are missing pieces.  The doc doesn't discuss the fate of her children (which is Googleable and not altogether pleasant).  It doesn't entirely discuss her decision to step away as she's done in the US and how and why she's retreated to Europe, but reading between the lines, I think we can figure it out.  

What it does do is remind you of the power Tina Turner had as talent, performer and icon.  Who didn't like seeing Tina Turner pop up, or like at least three of her songs?  I'm still occasionally digging through her catalog and finding things or being reminded "hey, she kinda kills it on 'Private Dancer'".

But, yeah - given the opportunity to watch a biopic versus watching a doc, this is why I'll reach for the doc every time.  It's not that things aren't interpreted or reframed in a doc -  memory changes, people will have biases, etc...  But a narrative film with actors, writers and market needs will filter and refilter as they bring an event to screen (and that's unavoidable in many cases.  We aren't getting a doc with interviews from the people who were there about, say, Bunker Hill, but I'd still prefer a Bunker Hill doc with historians fighting it out for the narrative).  So many opportunities are in place to just make things up in biopics.  Give me a doc that includes involvement from those who were there, or at least academic talking heads who spent a decade researching the material every time.  And - this is clearly pro-Tina propaganda, and I am wildly okay with that.  I get what it is, but when the narrative has been taken from her so many times, it does feel like maybe she finally got in her say.

It's also worth noting -Turner herself didn't see What's Love Got To Do With It when it came out, and tried to explain why to a baffled press corps.  And so it seems possible she won't watch this doc at all, but she might - it seems the filmmakers worked hard to share the story she wanted.

I expect The Youths who will watch this doc and suddenly become Tina Experts will have firm opinions on the twitters, and I welcome it.  There are worse things than late-era Tina Turner fandom - as long as they understand, Gen-X was late to the Tina game in 1984.  

I will mention, in May of 1997, Jamie got me tickets to see Tina Turner at the Alamodome in San Antonio.  It was easily the most diverse crowd I'd ever seen heading into a concert together - because everyone loves Tina Turner.  In my day, I've been to a fair number of shows, and seen some fairly big names.  Y'all, as I said at the outset, I wasn't a huge Tina Turner fan - Jamie got me the tickets I think because of a rant I went on about how Turner's legacy and staying power when someone gave a brief guffaw that she was coming to town.  Or else Jamie just knew that I'd have a killer time.  I'm not sure!  But I can't tell you how much it lived up to the hype.  So, yes, I've seen Tina Turner live.  I will claim whatever cred I can for having been one of millions to do so.

*apparently subsequent owners did not update the house, and kept the furniture - and the house was actually used in the filming of What's Love Got To Do WIth It.  According to a quick Google search, the house was updated in the last 4 years or so.  

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