(Originally posted on 1/14/04)
Having been bitten by the documentary bug, I finally saw Pumping Iron, the 1977 bodybuilding documentary that gave Arnold Schwarzenegger his first taste of the mainstream spotlight. Yet besides a few revealing moments of Schwarzenegger on the road to his sixth (and final) Mr. Olympia title, the film is a rather amateurish, rough-around-the-edges affair that doesn't tell us much about weight lifters except that they train really, really hard for those gargantuan pectorals and deltoids. Mike Katz, a middle school teacher and amateur bodybuilder, reveals a rather predictable motivation for wanting to inflate his physique to He-Man proportions when he discusses his childhood experiences with bullies, but the film's more prevalent homoerotic subtext -- seen in the subjects' infatuation with their own, and each others', bodies, as well as in a strange shot of a nude Arnold and his friend/colleague Franco Columbo in the shower admiring Arnold's bulging bicep -- goes unmentioned. Rather, we see Arnold smoke some dope, hear him equate the burning sensation one feels from lifting weights to having an orgasm ("I am coming day and night! I'm in heaven!" he laughs), and expound on the psychological (as well as physical) edge he holds over his competition. He backs up such claims by psyching out a young, seemingly unconfident Lou Ferrigno, but considering the mental fitness of his opposition -- whose typical comments don't extend far beyond shallow, egotistical clichés -- I can't say I'm overly impressed.