A superstar can be made. Hard, focused, smart work, dedication and a little bit of luck can turn any budding talent into a superstar. But an icon cannot be made. Icons are created, as though a magical third component consisting of pure, electric talent met sperm and egg at the precise instant of conception. Icons are beacons of brilliance in a world of relative darkness – irrepressible, undeniable talent not just worthy of celebration but of worship, even long after their death.

But nothing – no description, no representation, no facsimile – can compare to witnessing an icon in action and in their prime. Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin’s Tina, a biodoc of the singer Tina Turner, knows this and flaunts this. Turner has not merely made herself a most kinetic spectacle across her 60 years in the spotlight, she’s exploited the fact that her talent, that mesmerizing electric spark for performance that seems to flow through every vein in her body, is a talent made for spectacular public display. The evidence is bountiful – video archives and online platforms are overflowing with footage of her live musical performances, footage liberally strewn throughout this entertaining, informative documentary.

If Tina sounds like little more than a glorified YouTube trawl, however, it’s emphatically not. Lindsay and Martin have expertly curated this footage, creating a showcase of Turner’s abilities that runs the gamut of those abilities. We see her at various stages in her storied career, observing her at different times, in different places, singing different styles, exhibiting different skills as a performer – singing, dancing, the subtle art of forging an indelible emotional connection with the audience – typically all simultaneously. This material would normally accent the storytelling in similar biodocs, the evidentiary footnotes capping off some arduous trek through a person’s life and career. Here, it’s front and centre, the talking heads and montages making up the mortar around the solid gold bricks of magnificence that are Turner’s legacy of live performances.

Aiding Lindsay and Martin is the fact that they’ve acquired rare, intimate access to their subject. Turner is that most unusual celebrity in the modern age – she’s honest and open yet private. She answers every question, no matter how difficult, no matter how many times she’s answered it before; Tina perhaps inadvertently chimes with the recent discussions about how the media has treated female celebs inspired by FX and the New York Times’ Framing Britney Spears. But she’s seemingly had her fill of public life, appearing here to add an up-to-date, personal slant to a tale otherwise being told in the past tense and by persons other than herself; besides this interview, filmed in 2019, Turner now lives a quiet life in Zurich with her husband Erwin Bach, having relinquished her U.S. citizenship in 2013.

Tina thus bears the bittersweet tone of a farewell, not the grand, bombastic, conditional goodbye of an artist’s farewell world tour. This is Turner quietly stepping out to greet the world one last time, having made her peace, acknowledging that she is now an elderly lady whose days as an active part of the entertainment industry have now passed. The finality of it is palpable: she’s visibly frailer than her former, energetic self and is clearly more aware than anyone else of the toll those days have taken on her. “The good did not outweigh the bad,” she is heard to say at the beginning of the movie; unavoidably, the statement this movie makes at the end of her career must recount both good and bad, examining her troubled childhood and the years of abuse she suffered at the hands of her ex-husband Ike. Having attempted and failed to close the book on that chapter several times before, it appears the only way Turner can not only move on but move the conversation on from the Ike issue is to sign her name to one last statement and retire with quintessential grace.

For all its insight and sincerity, Tina isn’t quite a masterpiece of a standard similar to that of its subject. It’s too in thrall to her to eke out an artistic identity of its own; Lindsay and Martin here demonstrate the capacity of the biodoc formula to honour a subject truly worthy of such an honour with utmost earnestness and respect. They don’t seem interested in innovation, in an act of creation of their own, rather understandably devoting their efforts to paying homage to an icon who could hardly be worthier of said honour. And as she bows out of public life, content and confident in her permanence of her decision, the full weight of the genius evident in her performances becomes blindingly clear. As the end credits roll over one of those performances – “The Best” in Barcelona, 1990, as part of Foreign Affair: The Farewell Tour – it’s hard not to be intensely, deeply moved. An icon retires but her beacon of brilliance will never stop shining bright.

A fitting tribute to a true icon. Bittersweet and brilliant, a fine and genuine honour that makes full use of its subject’s unparalleled talent.
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