Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Simply the Best

What's Love Got To Do With It?
Director: Brian Gibson
Cast: Angela Bassett, Laurence Fishburne, Jennifer Lewis, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Khandi Alexander, Chi McBride
Released: June 25, 1993

Oscar nominations:
Best Actress - Angela Bassett (lost to Holly Hunter for The Piano)
Best Actor - Laurence Fishburne (lost to Tom Hanks for Philadelphia)

I was a big fan of Tina Turner's music before I saw this movie and knew about her past with the abusive Ike Turner, but after watching this, I had a whole new appreciation for the struggles she went through and how she became a superstar recording artist. This is probably one of the better music biopics I've seen. It's based on an autobiography Tina Turner wrote called I, Tina. The movie mainly focuses on her meeting Ike Turner and how she became a recording artist. We do get a few scenes of her as a little girl, then named Anna Mae Bullock (while I did know that Tina Turner wasn't her given name, I couldn't have told you her birth name prior to seeing this film) growing up in Nutbush, Tennessee. Now that song "Nutbush City Limits" makes a lot of sense! "They call it Nutbush! Oh, Nutbush! Nutbush city limits! Nutbush city!" On the Nutbush, TN Wiki page, it says that "Nutbush is best known as the home of Tina Turner." Who would have thought? That's probably the only thing they're known for (it's a town with a population of a little over a thousand people).  You have to admit that's a pretty impressive thing to be known for. What are the odds that a town with such a small population would have produced one of the world's most successful singers? And I'm sure you'll find many signs like this if you drive through it:

The movie establishes her love of singing as we see her as a young girl singing (very loudly) in the church choir. She is so disruptive and obnoxious that the choir director kicks her out! As a teenager, she relocates to St. Louis where she sees Ike Turner (Laurence Fishburne), the bandleader of a band called Kings of Rhythm, perform at a bar. The ladies think Ike is very smooth and charismatic and every time his band plays "Darlin', You Know I Love You" (a song I was not aware of prior to seeing this film), he lets one of his many admirers try her hand at singing, but will take the mic away if she gets booed for being awful. Anna Mae and her sister go back to the club and when the song is played, her sister convinces her to take the mic and sing. Anna Mae had been practicing the song and is embarrassed when her sister and mother catch her singing it into the bathroom mirror. This is the scene where Anna Mae catches Ike's eye (and ear!)

Obviously Angela Bassett is lip-synching with Tina Turner's voice dubbed in. I believe Tina provided all the vocal tracks for the film. Which you kind of need because she has such a distinctive singing voice. It's hard to imagine anyone else but Angela Bassett in the iconic role because she is so great in it, but there were other big names up for the part including Whitney Houston. That would have been really weird to see a really popular singer play a....really popular singer. I know they would have made her up to look like Tina and any signs of Whitney Houston would have vanished, but it still would be weird. Plus, let's be honest, while Whitney was a great singer, she really wasn't that great in the acting department. Okay, at best. Everyone knows that Angela Bassett can act circles around her. There's really no contest.

Anna Mae becomes ones of Ike's back up singers, known as the Ikettes. She is clearly the best singer and becomes Ike's favorite. This is where the movie starts to move fairly fast. Anna Mae moves in with Ike, gets pregnant, they get married in Mexico, they have a baby boy. We get a very quick scene where Ike tells Anna Mae that new name is Tina Turner. There's no explanation on why 'Tina" was chosen. Perhaps he likes alliteration?

Soon Ike and Tina Turner become a sensational duo and are writing and recording hits and making lots of money and are soon able to afford a nice house with a pool and furnished with nice stuff. Ike is angry at Tina for buying so much stuff and tells her she needs to sing the songs he's writing for her better and she offends him by saying all his songs are starting to sound the same. This results in the first time we see Ike get physically abusive towards her and it's pretty harrowing to watch. He is slapping her, dragging her, punching her, cussing at her in front of their children (their biological son and Ike's two sons from a previous marriage whose ex-wife (Khandi Alexander) had dropped off at their house one day and both adults are arguing RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE CHILDREN. Real nice!)

At one point, Tina tries to escape when she leaves the house in the middle of the night and takes the children with her to her mother's. They take a bus and while at a pit stop, she has her son, but is trying to find her step-sons and finds them by Ike's car. He had found them and threatens for Tina to get into the car with him and the children.

While performing some of their latest hits on an American Bandstand-type show (maybe that was the show), Tina and Ike are approached by Phil Spector who wants to record a song with Tina. Ike mistakes this and thinks this means BOTH of them, but no, he only wants Tina. The song is "River Deep, Mountain High" and this was the first song played in the movie that I was familiar with. This was around 1965 and this is where Tina starts becoming much more popular than Ike which makes him jealous and makes him more irate which only results in more beatings for Tina. He even rapes her in their home recording booth after beating her up and getting angry at her for the way she's singing a song.

Of course we get a scene of Ike and Tina singing what is their most well-known song, "Proud Mary". In fact, this song is so synonymous  with them, that I always thought they were the original writers/singers of the song and all the covers came after them, but it was first recorded by the band, Creedence Clearwater Revival. But ask anybody who sings that song and I'll guarantee you they'll say, "Tina Turner".

At one point, Ike beats Tina so bad that she ends up in the hospital and she is visited by one of the former, Ikettes, Jackie (Vanessa Bell Calloway), one of Tina's closest friends. She has always pleaded for Tina to leave Ike. She turns Tina onto Buddhism which helps her calm herself and gather her thoughts. It gives her confidence and it's the turning point for her when she and Ike are staying in a swanky hotel while on tour and Ike beats Tina so bad that she has blood all over her face. She runs out of the room and out of the hotel, crosses a busy street with cars honking everywhere and goes to a cheaper hotel where she asks to speak to the manager and says, "My name is Tina Turner and I need a room. I only have 32 cents in my pocket but I promise I will pay you back." Of course they accommodate her.

That incident was the final straw and soon Ike and Tina are in court. Tina says that Ike can have all the rights to their songs and keep all their material possessions and pretty much everything else. The only thing she wants to keep is her name. She is so confident in her ability to build herself up with her name and talent that she doesn't care if she looses everything she's earned along the way. This makes Ike angry (what else is new?) and says that was the name he gave her and that she should be stripped of it if she is leaving him, but the judge lets her keep her famous household name.

Obviously we know who the real winner is. Tina Turner went on to become one of the most famous recording artists in the world and is worth millions of dollars. After breaking up with Ike in 1978, she began working on her solo career and in 1984 released an album with all the songs I'm most familiar with like "What's Love Got To Do With It?" and "Private Dancer." Just as I did with Michael Jackson Madonna, and Whitney Houston, she is one of the artists I grew up with so of course I'm mostly familiar with her '80s music. (Although of course I knew "Proud Mary" as a child). She went on to record many popular hits. She's won eight Grammys. I know she now resides in Switzerland. I remember she was living in the south of France at one time (I think it was Nice?) and about ten years ago InStyle magazine did an article (complete with gorgeous photos) of her estate. Tina Turner's life is just fine. Ike, on the other hand, became known as being a wife abuser and never really elevated to any fame besides being the ex-husband (and abuser) of Tina Turner. He's only known for being a bad guy, really. He spent some time in jail for drug-related charges, continued his drug habit with cocaine and died in 2007. His life did not turn out so well.

The movie ends with Tina singing her new hit single (at the time), "What's Love Got To Do With It?" because you couldn't NOT have that song in this movie! It's kind of cool because you see Angela Bassett in the famous Tina Turner shag wig sing it and then it shows the real Tina Turner singing the song at a huge stadium. While Angela and Tina have completely different shaped faces and facial features, their bodies are very physically similar and Angela emulates Tina's stage mannerisms so well. You know that she did her homework with studying Tina during her performances.

Highly recommended; I might even go so far as to say that this is my favorite music movie biopic.


  1. The movie is only loosely based on Tina's book. She had no control over the script so the writers had creative freedom to fabricate scenes like the rape scene and cake scene never happened in real life. If you are a big Tina fan read her book. The movie doesn't mention Tina already had a baby at 18 by Raymond Hill, a musician in Ike's band. The timeline is also off. Ike obviously should have treated her better but the movie is not an accurate portrayal of their relationship. For all his faults Ike was a talented musician. He can't take credit for Tina's natural talent but he gave her a platform to shine. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of fame together as a duo for a reason. Ike also went on to receive solo awards including a Grammy award the year he died in 2007.