Tina: What's Love Got To Do With It?
Directed by Brian Gibson
Written by Kate Lanier from the book by Tina Turner
Reviewed by Col Hesse
It has always been a project fraught with difficulty to make films which seek to trace the rise of "popular" entertainers without being overly reverential, such as Clint Eastwood's, Bird, a film on the life of sax player Charlie Parker. The other side of this genre is films such as What's Love Got To Do With It?, which is highly tendentious and historically inaccurate, and fails totally to explore a story which could have truly entertained as well as educated its undoubtedly large audience.
By now anyone with even a passing acquaintance with popular music will know the story of Tina Turner's rise as an unknown singer from St Louis who linked up with Ike Tuner in the late '50s. Together they went on to achieve a series of hits in the US such as "A Fool in Love", and then in Europe and Australia with songs such as, "River Deep, Mountain High", "Proud Mary" and "Nutbush City Limits".
We also know of their tempestuous relationship and the beatings which Tina endured at the hands of Ike over many years, and of her finally leaving him and carving an even more successful career for herself in the '80s and '90s.
It is this story which the producers have made into a film, and as such it does nothing to add to our understanding of Tina Tuner or what drove her and Ike on, nor does it give a feel for the era they straddled or that in which their music was made.
The film, obviously made for television (it has almost no outdoor shots), uses costume changes to indicate the movement of time, and when this isn't obvious enough it throws up the date, and sometimes a comment. This is at times farcical, such as the very obvious wig that Laurence Fishburne (Ike) wears to demonstrate that we are now in the swinging '60s, or when we are informed in TV FBI style that Ike served some time in the '80s for some drug offence.
Both the look and the historical narrative are full of errors. To mention just a few: the movie shows us Ike singing "Rocket 88", one of the first rock 'n' roll records, released on Chess Records in 1951, which in fact featured the singing of sax player Jackie Brenston. Fishburne is a very big man whereas Ike was anything but. Angela Bassett, as Tina, looks like she pumps a lot of iron; while Tina was very fit, it makes this look like a workout movie.
The real low point was the appearance of James Reyne as Roger Davies, Tina's manager and, as the movie would have it, the rock upon which Tina was able to rely as she went from bottom to the top after leaving Ike. Stomach-churning stuff from the executive producer of the film and former manager of Sherbet.
To deny that Tina Turner had a hard road to the top would be churlish, but this film retells the story as the mantra it has become for magazine editors and DJs the world over, and with about as much passion as Angela Bassett manages when she recites a Buddhist prayer. The film's breathless inevitability leaves one wishing for a little bit of substance to fill in the gaping holes.
Crucial to this would be a discussion of racism, which all African American musicians suffered from to a degree unimagined by even most modern young white Americans. All African American performers of Ike and Tina's generation had to undertake endless touring — up to 51 weeks a year, with the occasional trip into the studio to put down their thoroughly road-tested songs. Along the way they were ripped off by unscrupulous managers and booking agents, and were in the main confined to playing to racially segregated audiences.
As Tina recounted in an interview with RAM magazine in January 1976, "There are still problems for the black artists in the States, changes they are forced to endure with the R&B charts and radio station segregation that looks more at a performer's skin colour than the actual musical expression".
Along with greats such as Chuck Berry and James Brown, Ike and Tina became extremely bitter as they saw many less talented white performers get the breaks that were denied them. Race and class, the issues which shaped so much of black music, are all but ignored by the movie. If it had taken up these issues and more closely examined the changing role of African American women against the backdrop of the emerging feminist movement and the Black Power movement of the late '60s, this would indeed have been a story worth telling.
For a glimpse of how exciting and sexy Ike and Tina were back in the '60s, you can't go past the video that contains The TAMI Show, That Was Rock and The Big TNT Show. They perform three of their greatest songs along with great performances by James Brown and Bo Diddley. The Rolling Stones, also on the same video look effete in comparison. The Kent CD, The Ike & Tina Turner Sessions, also gives a great introduction to their music was.
As for the movie, Tina Turner says she hasn't seen it yet. If you feel you must see it, wait for it to get to television: it won't be long.