Many people are aware of the relationship that Ike and Tina Turner had through the excellent film What's Love Got To Do With It, based on Tina's memoir and recounted their relationship and Ike's years of physical and emotional abuse of Tina and her eventual career resurgence. And while this may be the prism that most people identified, not many knew or were aware of the dynamic between the two behind those scenes. And with Ike & Tina On The Road, the attempt to shed some light on this lesser known dynamic is made.
The film is home video footage that was shot by Bob Gruen, a longtime rock photographer (whose picture of John Lennon in a New York City t-shirt remains an iconic photo) and Gruen's wife Nadya. The couple was brought into the fold after Ike had seen some of Gruen's photos and asked that he film the pair and the rest of the band as they toured North America in 1971 & '72. The film itself is a mix of the couple, band members and family offstage, including some entertaining moments at home when Tina is cooking dinner for the family. Another fun moment to watch is when a few fans come in for pre-arranged "Meet and Greets" with Ike and Tina, and watching as Tina charms the fans while the quieter, soft-spoken Ike nods and poses with the groups for photos.
Of course, when the band and the couple are onstage, seeing the chemistry and palpable electricity of Tina and her backup singers/dancers is a sight to behold. Over the course of the 80 minutes of film, we see the band power through some songs made famous by others (such as Otis Redding's "I've Been Loving You Too Long" and "Try a Little Tenderness", and in an intriguing turn, the disc closes with a fun version of Sly and the Family Stone's "Want to Take You Higher"), along with many of the songs the band was knows for, such as "River Deep, Mountain High," "Walking the Dog" and "Proud Mary," to name a few. There is not denying the performances are fun to watch and it is self-evident why Tina's performances into her '70s remain entertaining ones.
There is the matter of the elephant in the room of course, and I will attempt to navigate it without looking foolish. I get that Gruen wants to show us Ike and Tina. I get that he spend more time with the couple than I ever will and that their relationship lasted for years before the film and went on several years afterwards. But there is an underlying layer of relationship between the two where the conjunction 'and' should be replaced by the preposition 'to' that one cannot help but think of in certain sequences through the film. The opening sequence watching Ike and Tina argue makes one readily uneasy. It is not that Gruen has captured a moment of them actively fighting with one another, it is that 'play arguing,' where one slightly passive comment could escalate a discussion into one with venom behind the rebuttal or God forbid, something worse. Another slightly more playful moment has Tina horsing around with one of the band members who threatens to throw her into the trunk of the car. One cannot help but wonder if this abuse was a known secret to other members of the band (in retrospect it appears to have been going on for a few years at that point, depending on who you ask). That is a dilemma surrounding viewing of Ike & Tina. By attempting to show us this other side of the Turners, and including moments like this, it tends to gloss over some of the other film in the feature, most of which is charming and engaging to experience.
And that dilemma tends to loom over the disc itself. Gruen's attempt to show Ike and Tina in what presumably were better times for them may be something that backfires. I enjoyed the performances and watching Ike and Tina engage in a little bit of onstage flirting, as Ike mimics Tina's vocals on lead guitar, is a moment that makes you perhaps see what they saw in each other to start the band to begin with. There is little argument that most of what you see in Ike & Tina are moments that virtually all of us have not seen before. But the known conscious enters the unknown experiences as the time goes on in the film that makes for a mix of entrancement and guilt. It is easy to watch the film and be mesmerized at what Gruen captured (as I was), but as I've gotten further from that experience, I felt a little embarrassed to see it. Gruen may want the viewer to see how Ike and Tina used to be, but for me it only made the resonance of Tina's ordeal all the deeper, which is a notion none of us wanted to have.
Full frame video rules the day which since it amounts to home movies is not that much of a surprise. The video quality is not very good and there are loads of artifacts, banding and other issues inherent in the source. That said, we are talking about footage shot four decades ago on one of the first video recorders, then transferred to DVD in whatever condition it was in at the time. If one expects a wheel to be reinvented, one should look elsewhere.
Mono sound, which again should not be a surprise considering the source. The performance stuff sounds decent, but it is the non-performance footage that is a bit frustrating at times in that it is simply hard to hear, with transitions into the songs being a bit jarring. You have cranked up the volume to hear what is going on at home or wherever, only to see Tina go into "I've Been Loving You Too Long." It does not happen often, though it happened enough to be noticeable.
Ike & Tina attempts to show us the salad days of the Turners but ultimately thoughts revert in some manner or fashion back to the point when Ike and Tina were no longer Ike AND Tina. The starting result for the viewer will be a fun experience and may evolve to an uneasy one, but one that is definitely worth the time to view, regardless of its technical quality and lack of bonus material.