Beatings, rape, overdoses, exploitation and sustained mental cruelty — and that was just 1969. Catherine Fellows thinks What’s Love Got To Do With It pulls no punches in its depiction of the relationship between Ike and Tina Turner, but still leaves some questions unanswered.
0 what has love got to do with it? Not a whole lot ifyou’re talking about the life of Tina Turner. The way she tells it in 1, Tina, the autobiography written with a little help from Kurt Loder, when she came into the world in 1939, little Anna Mae Bullock was the last thing her mother wanted. The fabulously named Zelma Bullock was already at loggerheads with Anna’s father, and the family home in Nutbush, rural Tennessee, regularly shook to ﬁghts and slanging matches. Not that they lived as a family for long. At three, Anna Mae was separated from her sisters and dumped with her austere Baptist grandmother, and so began a childhood of being shunted from one reluctant carer to the next — aunts, stepmothers, basically anybody who would take her. The one person she was close to, her cousin Margaret, was killed in a car crash along with her half sister when she was fourteen; and when she was sixteen, her high school true love abandoned her to marry a classmate. All this, and she hadn’t even met the
infamous Ike Turner yet, the husband who was to drive her to overdose and then, reputedly, coax her back to life with ‘you die, bitch, and I’ll kill you!’
There has to be enough there to keep any psychoanalyst or ﬁlmmaker looking for motives in business, but not, surprisingly, the minds behind the newly released biopic. They have chosen to concentrate on Tina’s adult life - the sixteen-odd years of mental and physical cruelty from Ike, her eventual bid for freedom and her triumphal rise to solo stardom. The movie bills itself as a mythic story of survival, of coming through it all, and a ray of hope to abused women everywhere. As screenwriter Kate Lanier puts it, ‘There are no examples of women who overcome the odds in the way that Tina Turner has. She set out on a quest, fought a dragon, and came through it successfully.’
Mostly due to impressive performances from Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishbume, who captures Ike’s dangerous combination of charisma and brutishness outstandingly well, the ﬁlm is certainly a compelling and extremely disturbing portrayal of the dynamics of the all- too-familiar abusive relationship. It is a chilling reminder of just how totally women have been oppressed: tolerating abuse is not just to do with excusing the abuser, but with having so low an opinion of yourself drummed into you or bred into you that you hardly consider that you have a right to anything better. Angela Bassett, as Tina, is deeply distressed by lke’s attacks, but it takes her three quarters of the ﬁlm, ﬁfteen years, before she becomes indignant, before, instead of appeasing and placating, she actually ﬁghts back.
The ﬁlm pulls no punches, presenting some of lke’s worst excesses — the time when he kidnapped the anaemic Tina from her hospital bed hours after she had given birth to their son, and plonked her on the stage; the outing to a diner when he took her refusal of a piece of cake as a major rebellion, beat her in front of everyone, then forced the whole wretched confection down her throat; the rape in the recording studio after she dared sing her own song Nutbush City Limits in her own way. And then there’s the horrendous hypocrisy of the performances themselves, the drawn out. smooch on the cheek covered with make-up to hide the bruises. It’s hardly surprising that she developed that idiosyncratic scream and wail as
3 The List 8-21 October 1993