Watching this movie in 2011 makes it almost hard to understand how popular bodybuilding used to be in the 1970s. Pumping Iron is now a reminder of an almost cult-like fascination with how far a human body can be pushed with the sole purpose of displaying a perfectly toned set of muscles in front of an audience (and jury). The filmmakers follow a group of successful bodybuilders and their quest for Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia titles. One of them is a certain cocky 28-year-old with a thick Austrian accent; watching Arnold Schwarzenegger mess with a very insecure Lou Ferrigno’s head is particularly amusing considering both men’s future as iconic heroes in movies and television. A fascinating (and emotional) look into a very special world.
1977-U.S. 85 min. Color. Produced by George Butler, Jerome Gary. Directed by George Butler, Robert Fiore. Book: George Butler, Charles Gaines.
Trivia: Followed by Pumping Iron II: The Women (1985).
Last word: “In September , I was on another assignment from The Village Voice to do a story on the IFBB Mr. America contest. Charles [Gaines] was also going to write an article for Oui magazine. We went to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and there were a couple hundred people in the audience. The place had been an old silent movie theater, and when the bodybuilders posed, the background music was whatever the old codger on the organ was playing for them. Very different from even a couple years later, when Arnold was famous for posing to the theme from ‘Exodus.’ Arnold happened to be doing the guest-posing exhibition. When he came out for that, the crowd just erupted with clapping and cheering like I’d never seen before. There was something about him that people were drawn to, you can call it charisma for lack of a better word. I always had an eye for potential.” (Butler, Muscular Development)