Tina Documentary makers Martin and Lindsay

Illustration for article entitled Rethinking the story Tina Turner has been telling for 40 years

Photo HBO

For a virtuoso performer whose sublime efforts to entertain the masses are wired even in the tiniest nuances – the articulated micro-movements From her prancing across the stage, the twitching and tension of her facial muscles changing every second, her wail that narrows into a snarl – Tina Turner often projects a surprising attitude in a new documentary about her life: Reluctance.

“The first interview we did in February 2019, we were sitting to do the interview and I was like, ‘How are you? How do you feel?’ She was like, ‘I don’t want to do this,’ ”Daniel Lindsay said via Zoom recently. Lindsay is one of the directors of Tina, which debuts on HBO on Saturday. “I knew she wasn’t referring to the whole documentary, but the interview. We were like, ‘Let’s start there. Let’s talk about that. ”

Reluctance has been a motive throughout Turner’s public life following her divorce from Ike Turner, the rock and roll pioneer who she claims horribly abused her for years during their marriage and musical collaboration. As Turner tells in Tina, she was initially moved to tell her story People magazine in 1981 to once and for all separate her image from that of Ike, whom she eventually escaped in 1976. In the end, the opposite happened. The story of her flight from Ike Turner to experience the greatest success of her career, ascending to the bona fide rock god in the 1980s, has not only defined Turner’s public profile, it has also achieved something of legendary status within the annals of American pop culture.

That story gave Lindsay and his directorial partner, TJ Martin, something to chew that other topics in this realm may have been missing. The pair are extremely selective about their projects and have won the Oscar for Best Documentary for 2012 The undefeated(The win made Martin the first black to win in that categoryOne of the reasons we were so reluctant to sign up to direct the movie is that these kinds of movies – I hope ours aren’t – could be the Marvel movies of the documentary world: bigger budgets and a built-in audience, ”explained Lindsay. “We knew we were never going to do a traditional rock doc, as it were, where we would just dissect her musical catalog and talk about Tina as an artist.”

That’s not to say there’s no clue to Turner’s storied career. The film is indeed filled with archival footage of artistic highlights from the Ike and post-Ike eras (‘River Deep, Mountain High’, Tuner’s collaboration with Phil Spector in the former camp, ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’ in the latter). Lindsay and Martin regularly use montage of stills, some spasmodically edited, during the musical moments as if to stuff as much of an icon onto the screen as possible, reminding you to frame everything, frame by frame. But to make a movie worth watching, they were posed by a unique challenge that Turner himself expressed during their first meeting.

‘I think her exact words were,’ There has been a book, a movie and a musical. What the hell are we going to make a documentary for? Martin recalls in reference to Turner’s 1985 memoir Me, TinaIts 1993 film adaptation, What’s Love Got To Do With ItAnd the more recent Broadway production TINA – The Tina Turner Musical“We were like, ‘We had the same question. That’s why we’re here.’ To her credit, she broke the ice and it created a fair space for us to be in. It was really in those initial conversations that we recognized how the trauma of her past is still beneath the surface. It’s always lurking around the corner. ”

The project came about as a result of the work Simon Chinn and Jonathan Chinn did with Turner on promo videos for the Broadway musical. The Chinns pitched the doc idea to Turner and her music director, Erwin Bach, and then asked Lindsay and Martin, who they worked with at the production company Lightbox, if they would help it out.

“When Simon approached us to see if we were willing to direct, we were hesitant in the first place: are two men the right people to be Tina’s voice, to tell her story?” Martin recalled. “And the second was that we really respected Tina, but we weren’t necessarily fans. The latter was probably in our favor, because when we got into it and learned more about her story, we looked at it through the lens of storytelling and everything was a real discovery. “

As for how she reconciled herself to telling Turner’s story while they were both men, the choice was Turner in the end. “I think after spending time with her, we built rapport and trust with her, so our job was to be an empathetic conduit to filter her story,” said Martin. The crew, Lindsay said, was barely a sausage party, with Diane Becker as producer and Taryn Gould on the editorial team.

Tina would eventually take about two and a half years to complete. The directors’ first sit-down interview with Turner on her palatial Zurich estate took place in February 2019. They conducted two three-hour interviews over two days. “Usually with these celebrity-based documents, there’s a contract in terms of how much time they’re going to give you. in the process, I think she got a little aroused, ” said Martin, who described Turner as “ this healthy combination of unique energy, extremely warm and extremely honest.

“If she doesn’t like your shoes, she’ll say, ‘Why are you wearing those shoes?’” He added. “But in the most loving way, like, ‘I think you can do better.'”

“There is a humility in her,” said Lindsay. Don’t get me wrong, she’s still a star. It’s annoying when people say celebrities are sober, but I don’t know how else to describe it. She makes you feel very comfortable. “

They based their framework on Turner’s oft-mentioned fatigue in relation to her story. Tinais thus a biography that is both about the events that took place and about sharing them. “There’s something to be discovered in her story, which we ended up doing in a meta way, like, ‘What does Tina think of Tina Turner’s story?’” Said Lindsay. “That was not only interesting in that world. We also thought it said a little more about media and the way we define people as symbols and ideas. That piece of meat on the bone is what made us think, “This is a real movie.” ”

But if we take Turner’s word for it, she basically got through telling her story People and then to journalist Kurt Loder (who co-wrote Me, Tina) and then suffered through the release of What’s Love Got To Do With It (at a press conference, shown in Tina via archive footage, she said she couldn’t sit through it), isn’t the same thing happening again? Aren’t Lindsay and Martin guilty of going through Turner through more of the hell for spending so much of the doctor on slouching?

“That’s a very strange line to walk: are we doing the same? I know we feel comfortable with the way we worked with her to make sure we didn’t do the same in our process with her, ”said Lindsay. “To be honest, it got too much to articulate precisely and it’s like, okay, I think that’s the weird contradiction in this movie. We were very concerned about showing Tina the movie, and we even talked about not showing her certain parts. Finally she said, “No, I want to see everything.” She liked the movie a lot. She told us it was correct and that she felt it was the truth of her experience. But she also said it wasn’t as hard for her to watch as she thought it would be. That speaks at least in a sense to what she says at the end: some of this is accepted. “

By the end of the doc’s filming, it became clear that it might be Turner’s final goodbye from the audience. Admittedly, she has said goodbye before – her 1990 foreign affairs trek was subtitled The Farewell Tour. She would launch four more, closing with the Tina !: 50th Anniversary Tour 2008-9. But at the age of 81, Turner seems to be more about it than ever. In footage of her attending the premiere of her Broadway show, she declares her willingness to bid the final adieu.

“It was palpable and she was very outspoken about her reluctance to attend the musical,” said Martin. She really appreciates the celebration of her life, but being Tina Turner’s persona – being Tina Turner’s symbol – is really exhausting for her. The way she expressed herself on the way to the premiere, it started to get into our brains that while we’ve taken this very specific POV into the movie, it might be a little closer to her final word. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Tina comes out with another album in five years. That’s Tina Turner. “