NEW YORK -- Tina Turner, this is your wide-screen life.
"I don't want to see it, but I want to see what they've done," Turner says of "What's Love Got to Do With It," the bio-film that opens nationwide on Friday.
"It's going to be crazy for me," the singer admits. "Anyway, I won't see it right away."
That's understandable. Based on Turner's 1986 autobiography, "I, Tina," the film details the physical violence and psychological terror she says she endured in her 18-year marriage to Ike Turner -- a man who ruled his home with an iron fist and a closed-circuit TV system. Tina Turner has no great desire to relive those years any time soon.
"What's Love Got to Do With It" is the Ike and Tina Turner review, replaying the sordid past that Tina overcame. In 1976, Tina says, after one last beating, she sneaked out of the Turners' hotel suite before aDallas concert with only 36 cents and a Mobil credit card. She never returned and has not spoken to Ike since (they divorced in 1978).
Turner's comeback album, "Private Dancer," sold 12 million copies, dominating the 1985 Grammys. It produced the No. 1 hit that gives the movie its name and its triumphant ending. Her autobiography -- written with the help of veteran rock journalist Kurt Loder -- was also a bestseller, but it was the first time most people learned the depth of Tina's tale of brutalization and exploitation at Ike Turner's balled hands.
Today Tina professes curiosity about the film, but not of a kind to kill a cat. Though it is based on her book and life, she did not have script approval. Nor did she ask for it.
"I trusted that they would stay as close as they could, even though there's always fiction and fact in these movies. Even if it's someone's life, they still mix it up. And this is 20 years that they put into two hours!"
Clearly, "What's Love Got to Do With It" -- in which Angela Bassett portrays Tina opposite Larry Fishburne's Ike -- is going to be told from Tina's point of view. In a recent Vanity Fair story, Ike disputes the accusations made by his ex-wife, calling them "the biggest lie ever told by her or by anybody that says that." Ike blames Tina for their troubles "because she stayed there and took it for whatever reason she was taking it."
He also claims that "there is no Tina in reality. ... I told her what words to say, what dress to wear, how to act onstage, what songs to sing. It all came from me. ... The movie's not about her. The movie's about me!"
That's the way it was with Ike: never nice, always rough. And it's true that Tina's name was his -- he'd created it in 1956 without consulting her. Otherwise, the autobiography would have been titled "I, Anna Mae" (she was born Anna Mae Bullock 53 years ago in Nutbush, Tenn.).
"I wrote the book because I was fed up with talking about it," Turner says in her hotel suite here -- where she is, in fact, talking again (it never hurts to publicize a movie, a soundtrack album and an upcoming concert tour.)
"When I left Ike, I never looked back and I didn't dwell on what happened there. After the book was written I thought people would stop talking about it, but then it became, 'If this was true, why did you stay?'
"Well, my God, how can you ever explain to people why you do something? It's personal, it's another time. I'd left Tennessee as a little country girl and stepped into a man's life who was a producer and had money and was a star in his own right. And at one time, Ike Turner had been very nice to me. It was in the later years that he changed to become a horrible person.
"So it's very difficult to explain to people why I stayed," Turner says.
"That went on and on and finally when it started to die down, here comes Disney buying the rights to the movie. I didn't think it would be made right away -- I figured I'd be an old woman" -- she pauses -- "older woman.
"And I thought: Now it's worse. Reading the book, you have to use your imagination, but when they start sticking the pictures up there, that's another story."
But it's her story.
If a fall is to rise from, Tina Turner has soared. At 53, she of the neverending legs has skin so smooth and taut there's a soft-chocolate glow about her. She radiates a gleeful energy -- happy to be alive, happy to be working, thank you -- and the phrase "bundle of energy" comes to mind and refuses to leave.
And this summer, Turner's going for the Triple Crown: "What's Love Got to Do With It" has begotten a soundtrack for which she re-recorded her old hits, along with three new songs. She embarks later this month on her first American tour in six years, which is also how long it's been since she had a hit here. (She'll be at the Merriweather Post Pavilion Aug. 1.)
In Europe, it's always been a different story, going back to the Ike and Tina days. Her 1991 tour there drew 3 1/2 million people. It's no wonder Turner has been living overseas, mostly in England, for more than a decade, and it's not surprising that she still wants to prove something on the home ground.
"I think a lot of people are going to be shocked," Turner says with a pleasantly defiant chuckle. "I know what I can do. On my last tour I was 51, and I've done some high-energy videos -- and it's still there. A lot of people are going to be blown away when they think, 'I'm the same age as she is and she's doing all that!' What they must realize is I haven't stopped.
"The body is a machine -- you train it to do what you want it to do. I move as swiftly as I've ever moved."
"When I was a little girl ... I had a rag doll ..."
Tina Turner sang that in 1966 on "River Deep, Mountain High," a song that legendary producer Phil Spector has always considered his masterpiece. The song suggested the peaks and valleys of Turner's youth as Anna Mae Bullock. She'd picked corn and cotton as a child -- her father managed a cotton plantation -- and showed promise as a singer and dancer before reaching her teens.
When Turner's parents separated, she moved to St. Louis with her mother and sister and, as a 17-year-old high school junior, first hooked up with Ike Turner. At the time, Turner and his Kings of Rhythm were the badass band in East St. Louis, and Tina was able to impress Ike only by grabbing a microphone offered to her sister and launching into a song.
Up till then Ike Turner had shown no particular interest in then-scrawny, young Tina, but he recognized a meal ticket when he heard it. She joined his band in 1956 and two years later joined him in matrimony. In 1959, when a session singer didn't show up to record a new Ike Turner song, he turned to Tina and "A Fool in Love" became a major R&B hit.
Not long after, the Kings of Rhythm became the Ike and Tina Turner Revue, fronted by the long-maned Tina and her three Ikettes, a nonstop swirl of long legs, skimpy dresses and gutbucket soul. For the next 10 years, Ike and Tina were mainstays on the R&B circuit, but that's also where their hits stayed -- in America, anyway.
In England, which has a long history of appreciating black American music styles, the reaction was different. "River Deep, Mountain High" had stiffed on the pop charts here (causing an embittered Spector to retire for several years), but in England it went to No. 2. On their first British tour in 1965, the Rolling Stones opened for Ike and Tina, and Mick Jagger's dancing improved considerably.
Four years later, when the Stones toured America, they chose Ike and Tina as their opening act. It was the first time white audiences were exposed to Tina's hot-blooded stage persona, and it wasn't long before both Look and Playboy were heralding her as the queen of raunch-and-roll, "a lioness in heat."
What they didn't notice was that Tina was also a caged lioness, virtually an indentured servant -- being onstage was her outlet. She was raising four young boys: two of her own (one by Ike, one from an earlier liaison) and two of Ike's by other women. Even while fronting the Revue and constantly traveling, she was expected to cook for and clean up after Ike -- who, she says, was flaunting affairs with other women. According to Tina, he was also using her as a punching bag, and when Ike discovered cocaine in late '60s, things got even uglier. (In 1990, he was sent to prison for 18 months on cocaine possession charges.)
But Tina stayed.
"It was all my choice," she says. "Nobody can understand the commitment that I gave."
And nobody seemed to pick up her distress signals. Reminded of a 1971 cover story in Rolling Stone titled "The World's Greatest Heartbreaker," Turner admits it could just as well have been called "The World's Biggest Broken Heart."
But it would be another five years before she found a way to stop hating Ike Turner and start loving Tina Turner: Buddhism.
"I think if I had started to do the Lord's Prayer properly, it would have helped some, but Buddhism was more a philosophy. In my mind, I'd know I was just saying words my Baptist parents had given me, but this was something I had chosen for myself. I know what the power of it is because it's dealing with the subconscious mind, and I tapped into something else inside of me that gave me strength. I changed my way of thinking and, gosh, my way of life.
"I had had someone saying, 'You can't cut your hair or you can't wear this or do that.' When I regained control, my health came back, I became me again.
"But I have no hate for Ike," Tina insists. "When people start talking about a lot of the old stuff, I go gosh, yeah, I forgot about that. But I left with absolutely nothing against him, just happiness that I was gone. I did all I could for him -- I'm sure he didn't appreciate it -- so now I leave it to rest."
When Tina left, she had nothing to show for those years of work.
"I didn't take anything with me," she explains. "I didn't take any money. I didn't have any mementos. I got a few clothes back, and Ike sent the kids, but no money! I went on with my life."
Unfortunately, Tina was held liable to promoters and bookers for all the missed Ike and Tina dates that had to be canceled, a half-million-dollar bill that took years to pay off, long past the finalizing of her divorce in 1978. She worked small clubs in the United States and larger concerts overseas, and did disco-style shows at business conventions. She also appeared as a regular on "Hollywood Squares," which would be a low to anyone but Tina Turner.
"Maybe no one will ever understand it, but it was mine," she says emphatically of her work in that period. "I did exactly what I wanted to and I enjoyed my work more. My first standing ovations started then and I had to believe it was because it was coming out of me and not this man in back of me."
One of the songs Turner did in those days was "Givin' It Up for Your Love," in which she sang, "I don't want your money, honey, I don't want your car/ I'm doing all right, I'm doing all right so far." In truth, she couldn't get a record deal, partly because she was perceived as a has-been, and also because she wasn't perceived as a singer. Turner herself wasn't convinced of her talent, partly because Ike had forced her to sing higher than she would have liked.
"I was always just screaming," she recalls. "It was the kind of delivery that he wanted somehow. I don't know why he produced me like that. Live was even worse -- my voice was always a bit hoarse because it was so abused."
(When Spector approached her in 1966 -- after paying Ike $20,000 to stay away from the studio so he could record Tina alone -- Tina thought Spector wanted her to sing the way she sang with Ike. He calmed her down by saying, "I just want you to sing the melody, and the people will hear you sing.")
"I don't love my voice, but when it's not screaming it has its qualities," says Turner. "I was so happy, I really felt that people would finally refer to me as a singer, not as Tina Turner the dancer who sings.
"And finally that came as well."
It only took 16 years. In 1982, the British synth-pop group Heaven 17 produced Turner in a cover of Al Green's classic "Let's Stay Together." It became a hit in England and a favorite in American dance clubs, and persuaded Capitol to offer her a contract. But even that almost didn't happen: When the label replaced its president, Turner reports, the new chief said that "we changed our mind, we don't think we can do anything with you."
But David Bowie had just signed a big new contract with Capitol, and when company officials offered to take him out to dinner, Bowie said he was going to see his favorite singer. "So they all came along and voila -- there I was onstage. They signed me simply because of David."
The songs that would go on "Private Dancer" -- most written specifically for Turner and produced by British musicians -- were modern pop, rock and soul, not her previous rock-and-roll covers like "Proud Mary," "Honky Tonk Woman" and "Come Together." Turner was allowed to find the essence of these new songs rather than merely adapt them to her style. It also marked her move away from the raunchy soul singing that had made her famous.
Taking a position that may shock some old fans, Turner says, "I never liked blues, and I never really cared for rhythm and blues. It's the stories. Think about it: 'My baby left me this morning ...' Everybody is crying because of the heartache. People say, 'If anybody can sing about it, you can,' but you think I want to sing about it? For what? I'm not a sad person and I don't want to sing sad songs. If my heart is broken, I work toward getting rid of the pain and I go on with my life."
In the early '80s, Turner decided to move to England. "That's where my success was since the very beginning," she says. "The support was always there and they never let go. It's not that I'm a star there, it's that I feel at home, I feel welcome."
Turner now owns homes in France and Germany, the latter shared with Erwin Bach, the 37-year-old managing director of the German division of the EMI label, who has been her companion for six years. She won't talk about him -- the Private Dancer is now the Private Romancer -- but it's apparent that Turner's enjoying the good life. She collects antique furniture, buys designer clothes and does not seem to worry about paying her bills anymore. Of course, selling 30 million records worldwide in nine years will bolster your consumer confidence.
So far, other than reading parts of the script, Tina Turner's exposure to "What's Love Got to Do With It" has been watching Angela Bassett play her.
"I met Angela and I felt safe that she had done quite a bit of research," Turner says. "I worked with her on some footwork and some body movement -- I never liked to work to the front gyrating, I always like to do a little sidestepping -- but basically that's all I did."
Turner was unhappy about scenes in which the filmmakers had her using profanity -- "I wasn't one for expressing myself in profanity" -- and several others that questioned her fashion sensibility.
"I was upset at some of the clothes they had me wearing at a pool party -- I'm wearing high-heeled shoes and my stage clothing -- God, give me a little sense for style, please!" she protests.
"I'm a style-crazy person, so I was upset about how I was possibly looking. And also about certain scenes at my home, because I prided myself on keeping it together the best I could. It was just vain stuff."
She talked to the filmmakers and "they changed some things for me, but it got to the point where they had an idea about the kind of movie they wanted to make about my life and we had some problems. So I just said, 'Okay, go ahead and make your movie.' I'm feeling like my life is going to be out there, and maybe people are going to be looking at something that's not true, even if this is a 'true story.'
"But I'm hopeful," Turner says. "I won't be negative."
Asked about rumors that Ike is trying to get his side of the story told on film, Tina just laughs. There's nothing more to be said.