This semi-documentary highlights the determination and vanity of the professional bodybuilder. As well as bringing ‘Arnie’ Schwarznegger to the attention of the world, the film also features Lou Ferrigno who went on to portray The Incredible Hulk in the 1970s/80s TV series.
In 1977’s hit documentary, Pumping Iron Arnold Schwarzenegger works the crowds, plots strategies for defeating multiple opponents, shares his parents’ values with the press and inspires legions of admirers with his resolute optimism about the future. And all of this long before he decided to run for governor of California. Larger than life, though not necessarily larger than his rivals for the Mr Universe and Mr Olympia bodybuilding titles (especially a young Lou Ferrigno, hot on Schwarzenegger’s competitive trail but much less interesting), he still comes across, at age 28, as a consummate politician, smart, likable, and crafty about exploiting others’ psychological weaknesses.
The film still feels redundant (there’s only so much beefcake the human eye will tolerate), but the emotional dramas–the unrewarded hard work, the unanswered hopes–are compelling. This 25th Anniversary edition includes a revealing 2003 interview with Schwarzenegger and a reunion of the film’s bodybuilders and director. —Tom Keogh