Pumping Iron – Review

"Milk is for babies. When you grow up you have to drink beer."

Oil up, flex those lats and light up a stogie. Packing plenty of muscle Pumping Iron takes us on a bodybuilding journey as Arnold Schwarzenegger contends for his sixth Mr. Olympia title.

It’s a joy to see Arnold in his rawest capacity, a competitor through and through his movie work tends to overshadow the sheer blood, sweat, and tears put into his audacious ambition to become the first man crowned with six Mr. Olympia titles and become a household name in the movie industry.

Although the upcoming 1975 Mr. Olympia competition in Pretoria is the driving force of Pumping Iron George Butler and Robert Fiore are keen to shine a light on both the amateur and professional bodybuilding worlds with touching insights into the everyday lives of Mike Katz and Franco Columbu as well as the Austrian Oak and his up-and-coming rival Lou Ferrigno.

Butler and Fiore juxtapose the personalities, training regime and home life to great effect. Building vastly contrasting images of the burgeoning rivalry we head into the Mr. Olympia competition with a slight nervousness as Ferrigno’s attitude is unquestionable. Fired up by his father’s drive Ferrigno is a hulking mass of determination compared to Arnie’s laid back vibe, only temporarily interrupted by the odd grimace in Gold’s Gym.

Of course, Arnie's determination is never in doubt.

Despite the mandatory binary opposition, which is actually framed pretty effectively, the refreshing transparency from Butler and Fiore provides the viewer with a unique and unquestionably accurate narrative of the competitive spirit involved in bodybuilding; a spirit often obscured by misplaced stigma during the late 60s and into the early 80s.

Having read Arnie’s stunning autobiography, ‘Total Recall’, Pumping Iron complements the written journey with a delicate, yet rich depth to the life of a champion bodybuilder, what it means to win, and the dedication required to do so. With a fierce rivalry blossoming between the ageing Arnold Schwarzenegger and the spritely Lou Ferrigno Pumping Iron exposes Arnie’s raw competitive capacity that has since become synonymous with his numerous ambitious ventures.

Behind the scenes Arnie does everything in his power to unnerve Ferrigno and give him that competitive edge. With unbearable mind games and shows of physical prowess Arnie is a true force to be reckoned with and Ferrigno knows he’s lost before he even sets foot on the stage.

After a fierce showdown and surprising entry Arnie reigns victorious at the centre of a muscular triumvirate. Standing atop the Pretorian podium with the future of professional bodybuilding on either side Arnie leaves the blossoming profession in good hands. For Pumping Iron acts as both an insightful documentary and a dramatic send-off as Arnie announces his retirement from bodybuilding in pursuit of a childhood dream.

Butler and Fiore’s Brilliant insights never shy away from exposing the true nature of competitive bodybuilding but at the centre of this bizarre muscular world lies an inspirational uniting passion. Not just a torch to Arnie’s ridiculous Mr. Olympia domination, Pumping Iron delves deep into the archives of bodybuilding’s primitive era with moving insights into the everyday lives of the sport’s most influential tentpoles.

* * * *

5 thoughts on “Pumping Iron – Review

  1. Good review! I loved this doc too. Arnie is the charismatic bad guy here. It’s a delight to watch the mind games, but didn’t know he could be such an ass, before I saw this. Still, this is one of the best sports documentaries out there. It’s never boring, and worth a few laughs. Thanks for highlighting this cult classic, James.

    Liked by 1 person

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