Best concert I ever saw? Tina Turner, the “Farewell Tour,” the first one — 2000.
It was the exclamation point on a sixteen year-long victory lap for the hardest working woman in show business. And yes, she left it all on the stage that night, 62 years-old and overwhelming a big backing band, wearing out backup singers and dancers half her age.
Best concert ever? Not. Even. Close.
We remember that she was a tornado in performance, a force of nature, a huge voice, an artist who struggled against racism in her genre of music and suffered like few others in the limelight — abused, escaping a marriage of literal “torture.”
We remember “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” — the “comeback” song, the hit motion picture, the myth.
But what “Tina,” the new HBO documentary profile reminds us, is how deep she is. Poised. Frank, modest, unschooled, very smart and well-spoken long before she took on an English accent. But deep — as good a spokeswoman and role model for the benefits of Buddhism as anyone who ever lived deep.
“It wasn’t a good life,” she recalled, back in 1981. “The good did not balance out the bad.”
But that was 1981. And nobody in show business ever had a third act like Anna Mae Bullock, aka Tina Turner.
“Tina” is built around a 2019 interview at her Swiss chateau and draws generously from tapes that led to that famous “People” magazine profile in 1981 that let the world know the abusive marriage she’d just escaped. There are tapes Kurt Loder made while writing “I, Tina,” her autobiography with her.
We hear from one of her sons, her backup singers, members of The Ike & Tina Turner Revue, her road manager, Oprah, the author of the recent “Tina” musical, and Angela Bassett –who played her on the screen. Archival interviews with the late Ike Turner and others help tell the story of a sharecropper’s daughter, abandoned by her mother, snatched from obscurity and the long march to fame, a “life without love” which only arrived very late.
Then the we see the grainy rehearsal footage, the stunning work ethic, the missteps that led her through “The Hollywood Squares” and a Vegas cabaret act to the unparalleled comeback spearheaded by a song others had recorded before, a song “I didn’t like…at all,” but which seemed to tell her life story.
And that’s the way she performed “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” from 1984 until the end of her last “farewell tour” in 2009 — as if she’d lived it.
“Tina” is a summarization and a celebration, a film that takes the singer and viewer from “Nutbush City Limits” to the break-out hit that never happened, “River Deep, Mountain High,” from Vegas to “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome,” hit records, full stadiums and James Bond movie themes.
Even those old enough to remember the epic, show-stopping cover of Credence’s “Proud Mary,” the signature song of her best years with Ike Turner, may have forgotten her Vegas residency — broke after the break-up, struggling in tiny venues with music that didn’t suit the big voice and electrifying performer she was.
“Tina” charts the serendipity of her comeback, the Olivia Newton John manager who helped her reinvent herself (and even Roger Davies was at a loss, at first, about what to do with her), “too old to rock’n roll” and running the legs off generations of forgotten successors, leaving it all out there every night — once, playing to 186,000 in Rio and sending everybody home happy.
“What I gleaned from her life,” Bassett says, “was love…Love of audiences, of music, love of her talent, of freedom…There’s a part of her that we’ve all laid claim to. I hope she knows how beloved, adored she is, throughout the world.”
“Tina” leaves little doubt of that.
MPA Rating: unrated, profanity, discussions of abuse, suicide
Cast: Tina Turner, Oprah Winfrey, Kurt Loder, Ike Turner, Katori Hall, Rhonda Graam, ERwin Bach, Craig Turner, Roger Davies, Le’Jeune Fletcher, and Angela Bassett
Credits: Scripted and directed by Daniel Lindsay, T.J. Martin. An HBO release.
Running time: 1:58