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Film Review: “Tina” Perfectly Celebrates Its Brilliant Star

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | March 27th, 2021

Film poster: “Tina”

Tina (Daniel Lindsay/T.J. Martin, 2020) 4 out of 4 stars.

When I emerged into pop-culture consciousness in the 1980s, rock star Tina Turner had just launched the vibrant second act to her career, with the hit song “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” leading the way as her anthem of resurgence. In that moment, I had little idea of all that she had gone through to get where she was, though her 1986 autobiography I, Tina (co-written with Kurt Loder), followed by the 1993 Oscar-nominated biopic about her, also entitled What’s Love Got to Do with It?, helped fill in those knowledge gaps. What I remember of the Tina Turner of my youth is a dynamic presence of the airwaves, concert venues and screens (who doesn’t love her turn in the 1985 Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome?). Thanks to the new documentary Tina, from directors Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin (LA 92), the great diva, now in her eighties, shines in all her hard-earned glory, past and present. What a ride, and what a movie.

Born in 1939, as Anna Mae Bullock, to Tennessee sharecroppers who abandoned their children when they split up, Tina met the man who would be both benefactor and abuser, Ike Turner, when she was 17. He was already well-established, thanks to his 1951 hit “Rocket 88,” which has since been hailed as the first rock ‘n’ roll recording (credited at the time to his saxophonist, Jackie Brenston). Though he initially dismissed her as just a fan, once he heard her sing he realized she was a force to be reckoned with.

Tina and Ikettes performing (January 1976) in TINA. Courtesy of Rhonda Graam ©HBO

Soon she was the face of his band, though he very much remained the leader. Rebranding her as Tina, and marrying her in 1960, as well, Ike became manager/husband/tyrant all in one. It would be 16 more years before Tina would summon the courage to break away, and then a number of years after that before she would truly come into her own, already in her forties by then. Her story should inspire all who find themselves in similar situations, and it’s all recounted here in vivid detail, by Tina and those who lived through it.

One thing should be clear, however: Tina is much more than a victim and survivor, and long ago grew tired of talking about Ike. She would, I hope, be happy to know that someone like me, when not reminded of her history by a comprehensive documentary such as this, never thinks about her ex-husband when considering her. Instead, what pops into my head are her incredibly energetic live solo performances, many excerpts from which grace Tina, her expressive voice imbuing even the simplest of lyrics with meaning.

Tina Turner today, in TINA ©HBO

Brisk and engaging, Tina includes interviews with people from every stage of its subject’s career, whether they be recorded expressly for the movie or dug out of older archives. It is a treasure trove for any fan, diehard or casual. And how wonderful it is to see the Tina of today, at her home in Switzerland or on a trip to New York for the 2019 Broadway premiere of Tina: The Tina Turner Musical. She is eternal, now and evermore.

[Tina premieres Saturday, March 27, at 8pm EST, on HBO and HBO Max]

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is Managing Editor at Film Festival Today; lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is a former cohost of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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