Pumping Iron, a documentary directed by Robert Fiore and George Butler, showcases bodybuilders preparing and then participating in the 1975 Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia competitions in South Africa. While the documentary profiles many competing body builders, the main focus is on Arnold Schwarzenegger trying to win his sixth Mr. Olympia in his last season of competitive body building.
Arnold's Hollywood Beginning
It's Arnold's first documentary and he sure does make an impression. While Arnold says hello to guys in his gym like Big Mike and Big John, who are really big, the one and only Schwarzenegger makes them look small. He utilized all steroids to perfect his body and with his shirt off, it looks pretty perfect.
For proper context, steroids were not highly researched and were also not illegal in this time period of the 1970s. Steroids would fall in the same category as other drugs like marijuana and cocaine in this fad, which a lot of people used to experiment.
Some of the most provocative moments involve Arnold's mouth, which is just as massive as his body. In one scene, he compares the feeling he gets when he lifts to having sex. Arnold also says body building is "the greatest sport in the world." He compares body building to what the Renaissance artists did to their sculptures, only body building is more difficult and impressive because it is a human body. His point has some truth. But with the popularity he brought to body building, Arnold can say these bold comments. It's not mentioned in the documentary, but Arnold came from Austria and created the massive lifting craze that we now know of. He is the forefather, the creator, and the master of this event.
Lou Ferrigno, who eventually acted as the Hulk in following productions, is a new challenger to Arnold's crown. The documentary builds up this competition as an even match that could go either way. But on film, the eventual Governor of California compares Lou as his son and that if Lou comes to the competition in really good shape, then Arnold will mentally break down Ferrigno the night before the event. If Lou doesn't come in amazing shape, then Arnold will easily win. It is not surprising that Pumping Iron finishes with Schwarzenegger winning his sixth and last Mr. Olympia.
While Pumping Iron should be credited in its subject novelty and informational approach, it does leave some holes. I believe the audience would benefit from hearing how often the body builders workout, by hours per day and for how many days. Another element that could have used more attention is steroids and their impact on the budy builders in the present and future. A concession to the film team is that it was the 1970s, as previously stated, so not even the production team would know much about steroids.
With that slight criticism noted, the documentary's legacy remains as the first film to show competitive body building as well as the first to show the great Arnold Schwarzenegger. Because of these two factors, if rating this documentary on a 1-10 scale, Pumping Iron gets an excellent 9/10.
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