I thought I was going to do tonight’s Night Owl on one of the most famous documentaries to come out of the late 20th century. PUMPING IRON (1977) not only brought weightlifting into mainstream consciousness, but it made both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno household names. I watched it for the first time this week. Even as someone who’s not nearly as interested in fitness as she should be, I was fascinated.
PUMPING IRON focuses on the days up to–and including the 1975 Mr. Olympia/Mr. Universe competition. We follow both the amateurs and professionals as they train and get ready for competition. We watch as they analyze which muscles need work, go through ballet lessons so their posing becomes more fluid, and hear the back stories of why they got into the art of muscle building in the first place. It also gets into the rivalries and the mind-games the competitors play against each other. The first part of the movie concerns the amateurs. Right before the big pose-off, one person’s lucky shirt has been stolen by a competitor. He ended up placing fourth.
The next part, the professionals, is where Schwarzenegger and Ferrigno reach the spotlight. Schwarzenegger had already won Mr. Olympia six times prior and was looking to retire after one more round. He’s the “old” champion that others look to for guidance, especially a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed newcomer, Lou Ferrigno. Ferrigno had posters of Schwarzenegger for inspiration. The lives of Ferrigno who is hard of hearing and relies on his parents for a lot of help, practices in a dark basement gym. Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger and the other old hats are hanging out at Venice Beach, partying, and picking up chicks.
The most dramatic parts came when Schwarzenegger talked about the mind games he would play on the other competitors, including the naïve Ferrigno. He went on to explain that you had to be cold and emotionless in order to compete. As an example, he told the story about how his father died right before a competition. He refused to go home for the funeral because he didn’t want to distract him. As charming as he is, you can’t help but see him as the villain in Ferrigno’s story.
That movie is available for streaming here:
As I did some research before this piece, I came across this:
Arnold Schwarzenegger admitted that he had made up several stories in the movie for attention because the producers told him that without drama it would be boring. One of the stories made up was the fact that he did not attend his father’s funeral because of a body building competition that was going to happen in a couple of months. Arnold did actually attend his father’s funeral and spoke to him shortly before he passed.https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0076578/trivia?ref_=tt_trv_trv
This led me to find out what else was faked. Turns out a lot of it was. The film itself is called a “Docu-drama” instead of documentary.
The back story gets even crazier–the original plot was supposed to be Schwarzenegger training young actor Bud Cort, known for being rather small and skinny. Hours of footage were filmed, but everyone realized that just watching him working out wouldn’t make for an interesting movie. There needed to be drama. Bud Cort bowed out and the directors looked for other ways to create drama. RAW IRON (2002) was made on the 25th anniversary of PUMPING IRON to give some insight into what really happened both behind the scene and in front of the camera:
Question of the night: are you a fan of any obscure sports?