In 2009, Tina Turner gave her final public performance. After which she did something that only a few mega-famous musicians actually succeed at: She retired. With her second husband, former record company executive Erwin Bach, she took up a life far from both the country of her birth and the bustle of the music industry, in Zurich.
But Turner (born in 1939) continues to inspire. In 2019, a Broadway musical based on her life, made with her cooperation, became a hit. Her songs, both in partnership with Ike Turner and solo, are staples of classic radio stations.
For this documentary, directed by Dan Lindsay and TJ Martin (a Seattle native, graduate of Roosevelt High School and Western Washington University, and Oscar winner for the documentary “Undefeated” with Lindsay), she sat down for a stocktaking interview; this film is not just a summing up but a kind of farewell.
Turner’s life was a hard and complicated one. In the 1980s and beyond, the telling of that story became a defining part of her subsequent life. She began in music in the late 1950s as a wide-eyed teenager in St. Louis, admiring the R&B bandleader Ike Turner and hoping to sing for him. He dismissed her again and again, but when a bandmate insisted he listen, Ike was stunned. He initially groomed her in a way that both Tina and former colleagues here describe as “brotherly.” But the short shrift Ike had gotten in the music business fed his paranoia, and once he realized the one-time Anna Mae Bullock could be his ticket to the big time, he took control of Tina in terrifyingly abusive ways.
The documentary gives Ike his due as a musical force while also providing a cleareyed portrait of a monster. Tina’s recounting of a suicide attempt is juxtaposed with a clip from a 2000 interview with Ike in which Ike speculates that his then-wife was “upset” about his “womanizing.”
Tina Turner fought to keep her name after leaving Ike. And after doing whatever gigs she could get to pull herself out of debt, she forged a solo career bigger than she had possibly ever dreamed. She accomplished this over the resistance of racist record execs, and journalists who only ever wanted to ask her about the past. And eventually she found love — not again, she says, but really for the first time — with Bach, who’s also an executive producer of the movie.
Because of her autobiography, “I, Tina” (written with Kurt Loder, who is interviewed here) and the feature film “What’s Love Got to Do With It” (starring Angela Bassett, who speaks here with fervor on Tina’s talent and strength), you may believe you know Turner’s tale. And you may be right. It is retold well here, but the most moving portions — and they could bring tears to your eyes — come as Turner (as beautiful as she has ever been), wearing a tailored black suit, sits and discusses where she’s at now. “In not forgiving, you suffer,” she reflects. “I had an abusive life … that’s what you got. So you have to accept it.” The grace she shows here is almost overpowering.