Pumping Iron Gets Digital HD Release

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For a good portion of Americans these days, when you mention Arnold Schwarzenegger, images of Conan the Barbarian, a killer cyborg from the future, an action hero or an aging California politician come to mind. Few, I would bet, remember him prior to all that when, in his prime, he ruled the world of professional bodybuilding with a dominance that made him a legend. Oh, sure, you may remember him as being big and muscular, but do you remember just how big, muscular and defined he was?

PUMPING IRON is a documentary movie, narrated by Charles Gains, the author of the book “Pumping Iron: The Art and Sport of Bodybuilding,” chronicling the Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia competitions of 1975. Released now in Digital HD, the movie gives new life to the legend that is “Arnold.”

Appearing with him in the movie are fellow bodybuilding legend Franco Columbu and a then newcomer to the world of professional bodybuilding, 24 year old, 6’5” 275lb Lou Ferrigno – yes, TV’s original “Incredible Hulk.”

I found it refreshing to have my memory stirred back to this time -- although the plethora of polyester and way-too-short-and-too-tight shorts makes it dated and almost laughable at times. It still offers people great insight as to what went on in competitions such as this, at this level, which I would suspect still goes on today. The narrator takes time to explain how the competitions are run, what the athletes have to do, what the judges look for, etc.

To me this showed bodybuilding competitions at their purest form; seeing the masses of human flesh working out in gyms on exercise equipment and using dumbbells that, by today’s measure, look archaic, but prove it’s not the machine, but the man that builds the body.

What this movie also showed me was something I didn’t quite grasp when I first saw it, and that was the mind games that are played to get the upper hand in the competition. Arnold was the best at this; not only was his body the best, but his mental games and his mindset were too. He was so calculating that I could see now clearly just why he never lost during this time. When he talks about his routines and his body, his confidence shows through. He’s so polished and he knows it. While some bodybuilders are working on weak points to make them better, he freely states he has no weak points and that every muscle is perfectly proportioned in such a way that, as he says, if he wants to increase one part of his body a quarter inch he has to increase every other part of his body a quarter inch too. Although why he would want to make his arms larger than 23 inches is beyond me, but if he did I’m convinced he could have done it; such is the legend of Arnold the “Austrian Oak.”

I thought it was very funny to see when Franco Columbu and Arnold squared off for the overall championship (I’m not giving anything away here, this is history) -- with Arnold the over-200 pound winner and Franco the under-200 pound winner, Franco looked like a “Mini-Me” of Arnold! (History also shows that after Arnold retired, Columbu would win the Mr. Olympia title in ‘76.)

While the movie deals mostly with the competition between Lou and Arnold, and Arnold’s quest to win his 6th straight Mr. Olympia title, it also covers the Mr. Universe competition between a couple of the top amateurs of the day, Ken Waller and Mike Katz. But this is almost disconnected, like two separate documentaries spliced into one. There are lots of interviews with the bodybuilders, who all give real insight into what drove them to do what they do. Watching these athletes strain their bodies to lift these great weights to sculpt their bodies shows real dedication.

One thing that I thought did a disservice to Arnold was that in many instances, while they show Lou working hard in the gym with his dad pushing and training him, Arnold is often times shown joking around, taking part in photo shoots, advertising things, hanging out with models, doing personal appearances, etc.  We didn’t see him much in the gym, when it’s so obvious by looking at him that he spent as much time, if not more, than anyone else. I get that he’s “Arnold” and he was famous and the best ever at that time, so they perhaps wanted to show that side of him too, but still sometimes it was too one-sided.

The movie plays smoothly, and the HD does show the limitations of the medium of the day, but it is still fine to watch, and the bonus features are a real plus too. One of the bonuses is “Still Pumping,” in which Arnold himself talks about how he trained back then, and how he always felt that the mind is stronger than the body and that he would do anything it took to make him the best. He also speaks of how it was his mind that made him just that much better than others who had perhaps equally as awesome physiques, and how he brought that same ethic/mindset into his acting career and then later into his political career. It really tied his careers together for me by bringing the past into the present.

The other extra, “The Hard Science of Bodybuilding,” has interviews with Arnold and other bodybuilders such as the great Lee Haney, talking about the science of bodybuilding, how it works, and how the exercises make the body respond to achieve what the bodybuilder wants.

I found this overall very enjoyable and a fun watch -- not because it is a veritable testosterone-fest of bulky men slathered in oil posing half-naked, but rather because I got to see again, in his prime, as the announcer in the competition stated, “the one and only Arnold Schwarzenegger”. No matter who else you’ve seen as a body builder and no matter how good you think you may look, watch this movie and you’ll see, as all the others who fell before him, that Arnold was the best -- perhaps the best there has ever been, perhaps the best there ever will be.

4.0 / 5.0