Available on Digital HD for the first time, Pumping Iron is the 1977 bodybuilding documentary that introduced much of the world to Arnold Schwarzenegger. Through the years, I’ve seen parts of the film, but never sat down and watched the entire thing. Until now. Decidedly tedious, and occasionally annoying (largely due to Arnold Schwarzenegger), Pumping Iron still manages to be fascinating.
Don’t expect great filmmaking. It feels staged a lot of the time, and more focuses on individuals rather than the sport of bodybuilding. Nonetheless, Pumping Iron is a must-see for any Schwarzenegger fan. Just twenty-eight at the time, the guy has a huge ego, and oozes charisma. He compares getting ‘pumped’ to an orgasm. His subsequent super stardom seems inevitable. At times I wanted to slap him, but I also admired his unshakable confidence.
Arnold appears bigger than life. While bodybuilders Lou Ferrigno, and Mike Katz are also featured, Schwarzenegger towers over everyone. In a lot of ways, the film feel like an audition for his subsequent career as an actor. While everyone else in the film is busy just trying to keep themselves together for the Mr. Olympia competition, Arnold is busy psyching them out, one-upping them in workouts, and smiling. I’ve always enjoyed Lou Ferrigno, and it’s fascinating to watch Swarzenegger totally get into his head during breakfast. For Arnold, Mr. Olympia is a role; a persona. He walks away from Ferrigno having planted the seed that winning his sixth Mr. Olympia title is inevitable.
Lou Ferrigno should not be forgotten. Just twenty-four at the time, his relationship with his father is fascinating. The elder Ferrigno retired from his job as a New York City police officer to train his son full-time. All of the supporting players have their own stories that add something to the overall narrative. Overall, Pumping Iron is fun, and worth putting on your watch list.
This digital release offers fans never-before-released content in the US. There are two new bonus features. The first, “Still Pumping,” offers a newly recorded interview with Arnold Swarzenegger in which he discusses his life, and career. The second, “The Hard Science of Bodybuilding”, features Swarzenegger and other discussing the sport of bodybuilding.