Bob and Nadya Gruen’s Ike and Tina On The Road 1971-1972 is more than just a fascinating yet grainy cinema-verité document on par with The Rolling Stones’ Robert Frank–directed C***sucker Blues. Its murkiness tends to enhance its mystery, and it contains some of the most explosive performance sequences of the ‘70s — one could argue of all time.

There has been a lot of mystery surrounding the Ike and Tina Turner Revue. Despite Tina Turner‘s  subsequent stardom via her appearances in Tommy and the ’80s Private Danceralbum and her role in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, few if any glimpses exist of the revue in the mainstream. Naturally, what most people think about when they think of Ike Turner is Laurence Fishburne’s drug-demonized abuser in What’s Love Got To Do With It. The revue did get some footage in the Mayles Brothers’ Gimme Shelter, opening for the Stones, but that appearance tends to get lost amid that film’s massive and incessant dread train to Altamont.

Bob Gruen was a NYC native who had gotten his start photographing Bob Dylan when he ‘went electric’ at Newport and later befriended the band Glitterhouse, who, after appearing on the Barbarella soundtrack, would bring him in to do photos for their Bob Crewe-produced album. This then led to a gig shooting photos for Atlantic Records, and a meeting with the Turners, that would eventually lead to Gruen and his wife Nadya travelling with the Revue on their ’71-’72 tours, documenting performances, rehearsals, recordings and Tina at home on 16mm and very early, primitive video. Despite the very lo-fi quality, the constant funkiness is inescapable, and undeniable.

Among many scenes — including Tina rehearsing the Ikettes (revealed here as stars in their own right), the Revue’s horn section shuffling to the fore to perform “Under The Weather”, and Tina (with other-worldly interjections from Ike) putting out a version of Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” that would make Miley Cyrus join a convent — an appearance on the Johnny Carson show (that appears to be filmed off a TV screen) stands out. First Tina, Ike (on piano) the and the band perform “Oh Devil”, with Tina coming upstage brandishing Dionysian comedy/tragedy masks and proceeding with the Ikettes to funk-up Burbank like it will never be funked again. Afterward, she and the proto-Luke Skywalker-attired Ike saunter over to sit with Johnny, Ike soul-shaking Ed McMahon. Carson, while initially seeming out-of-touch when he mentions that the Revue’s tour of Japan will be a “gas”, soon riffs off Tina’s deeply perceptive observations, succinctly acknowledging the band’s primal appeal by stating “they know what you’re doing,” and Ike’s stoned silence with “can you keep it down over there?”

When Tina, the girls and the band take on and demolish none other than Sly Stone’s “I Want To Take You Higher” towards the end of the film, one wonders how that could even be possible. Must-see viewing.

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