With media attention so focused these days on the lives of those we consider celebrities, it can be hard to believe there was a time when a trip behind the scenes into the life of a pop musician or film star was considered something out of the ordinary. Yet it wasn’t too long ago that the idea of a camera crew following a celebrity around was considered a novelty. In those more innocent times it wasn’t a matter of media trying to uncover scandals or revealing secrets. but more about humanizing larger-than-life figures.
At least that’s the impression one gets watching the footage taken of Ike and Tina Turner by famous rock and roll photographer Bob Gruen and his wife Nadya. Using one of the first-ever portable video cameras, Gruen and his wife joined the Turners and their band on the road and at home for their 1971-72 tour. Now, 40 years later, the footage taken during this time has been cut, edited and digitally remastered as Ike & Tina Turner – On The Road: 1971-72, and released on DVD by MVD Entertainment Group.
Needless to say, video technology was in its infancy in those days. According to Gruen’s notes, the camera was loaded with tapes similar to those used on old reel to reel audio equipment; the picture quality wasn’t the greatest. In low light, the image would darken to the point where the screen would almost be black and in bright light it would blanch out. The audio was mono only and would tend to distort if the source was too loud, and pick up any and all ambient noise in the surrounding vicinity.
If this were filmed today, we would just throw it out as garbage. However, as a historical record of a bygone era and for the look it allows us into the lives of one of rock and roll’s more controversial husband and wife teams, it’s an invaluable document.
The sad demise of Ike and Tina Turner’s marriage has been well documented. The abuse Tina received at Ike’s hands and her escape from him finally by sneaking out of their hotel room with only change in her pocket is all that most think about when their life together is brought up.
In his liner notes for the DVD Gruen says the footage he shot shows why they were together for 20 years. While I’m not sure it accomplishes that goal, what this DVD does is remind us of just how incredible the band was at the height of the Turners performing prowess. While I’m sure there’s still footage from their periodic television appearances, I can’t see any network in the early 1970s airing some of the footage included on this DVD.
If in the 1950s no one would film Elvis below the waist, and in the 1960s the networks demanded the Rolling Stones change the line “let’s spend the night together” to “let’s spend some time together”, there’s no way anyone would have allowed the full unbridled sexuality of Ike and Tina on the air in the 1970s.
It must have been hard enough to get Tina and the Ikette’s dance moves approved for primetime television. The band reminds you why it’s called “funk” with almost every note they play. Even considering the poor quality of some of the footage, there’s no disguising the fact their music wasn’t the safe anti-septic stuff being churned out by Motown for mass consumption. They were playing down and dirty funk and R&B, which makes even most of today’s rappers look tame in comparison.
At least 50% of the film, if not more, was shot off-stage. There’s footage of Tina at home with the kids making supper and going grocery shopping like any housewife. However, even standing over a stove cooking, out of the slinky costumes and wigs she wore on stage, her natural glamour and presence shine through. Of course not everybody’s house in those days has an in ground swimming pool, a sunken living room and a Grammy trophy on the mantlepiece. Yet in spite of these things we also see a fairly typical domestic situation for the time period. Wife and kids hanging at the house.
Interestingly enough, Ike never appears in the footage shot at home. We only ever see him in work related situations. Backstage, rehearsing the band, or in the studio Ike’s presence is inescapable, but we hardly ever see the two of them alone together. Ike was taciturn to the point of almost hardly ever talking except during rehearsals; I can’t recall him saying anything not related to business during the entire DVD. Even then, he doesn’t say much. However, there’s no doubt he’s the one running the show musically. Watching him lead the band on stage and in rehearsals he’s like a conductor. Even during concerts, he would tend to stand facing the audience in profile so he could cue the band when required.
Of course, with Tina out front, nobody was going to be paying much attention to anybody else anyway. She could blow the doors off an auditorium with her voice one moment and the next bring you to tears with her gentleness. She’s pulling an audience to their feet and getting them dancing in the aisles and then sitting them back down again to break their hearts.
Then there’s her dancing. While your mind tells you she has to have her feet on the ground, your eyes are telling you a different story. Like some exotic bird she seems to float above the stage all the while twisting and twirling like an ecstatic dervish.
Unlike others who dance with only their arms and their legs, her whole body is involved. It’s like every muscle is attuned to the music and responds to what’s being played. It might start with her hands or her feet, but soon it can’t be contained and her whole body explodes into motion. However it’s not an uncontrolled flailing around either. For no matter how fast or involved her movements, she’s always able to stay centred on a song’s rhythm and it’s that pulse that lies at the base of everything she does.
As an historical record of just how incredible Ike and Tina Turner were at the peak of their career, there’s no questioning the value of this DVD. However, in spite of what Gruen says in his liner notes, there’s no evidence of them having anything in common aside from the music. Nothing of what we see of them together in this movie indicates an emotional bond existed between them. In fact we learn almost nothing about Ike except that he was completely devoted to his music. Maybe he was just a very shy man, or very private, but don’t go looking for anything that will give you any insights into their private life, because you won’t find it here.
While the majority of the DVD is taken from the black and white footage Gruen shot with his early model video camera, there are a few pieces of colour film spliced into it that were shot at the same time. Unfortunately, all they serve to do is make the flaws in the video even more obvious. Sometime, parts of the image on screen blacks out because of low light, and other times the exposure is off because the ambient light was too bright. However, that doesn’t stop this DVD from being something special to watch.
The music created by Ike and Tina Turner was some of the most amazing R&B/soul/funk produced in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Any opportunity to see them perform shouldn’t be missed. No matter what happened down the line, it can never be denied what they did together was amazing – it’s just too bad it couldn’t have lasted.