The star of Pumping Iron (1977) is a muscle bound 28-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger who compares body building to a sculptor creating art. The interviewer asks, “Do you visualize yourself as a piece of sculpture?” “Yes, definitely”, answers Schwarzenegger. “The good body builders have the same mind when it comes to sculpting that a sculptor has.”
Body Building as Art Form
So is bodybuilding an art form or merely a strange addiction? Pumping Iron is an unapologetic, documentary film about the zenith of the body building movement in the 1970s. This film helped to popularize body building and launched the acting and political career of Arnold Schwarzenegger, current governor of California. We follow two body building competitions, the IFBB Mr. Universe and the Mr. Olympia contest in Pretoria, South Africa.
Pumping Iron shows a rivalry, as well as a friendship, between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno that creates drama in this film. (Extra special: check out the kitchen in Lou Ferrigno’s parents Brooklyn home…it is vintage 1970s colors and patterns at its best!) While Lou may not win Mr. Olympia, he does go on to star in the popular television show The Incredible Hulk.
Arnold Before Stardom
It is fascinating to watch Arnold working the camera in Pumping Iron prior to his movie stardom and governorship. Schwarzenegger is not just launched to stardom in Pumping Iron, he IS a star already who exudes confident cheekiness and charm. The camera loves Schwarzenegger who allows the point of view to be literally in his face as he works out at the gym.
There are many scenes of Arnold and other body builders who spend time not just pumping iron and applying oil to their ample bulk, but perfecting their muscle-y poses. Arnold compares the feeling of body building to having an orgasm and explains that it just feels good. (Pre-movie star Arnold has a mole on his jaw, and eats fried chicken and smokes pot to celebrate his Mr. Olympia victory.) It is also interesting to note that Pumping Iron is blissfully free of any mention of steroids or doping.
Also starring: Lou Ferrigno, Franco Columbu, Mike Mentzer, Robby Robinson, Mike Katz, Albert Beckles, Ken Waller, Frank Zane, Paul Grant, Ed Corney, Serge Nubret, and Danny Padilla.
Directed by Robert Fiore and George Butler
Based on a book entitled Pumping Iron by Charles Gaines and George Butler. Charles Gaines is also the inventor of the term “pumping iron” to describe weight lifting.