Before he was the Governator and before he was the Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger was an award-winning professional body builder showcased in the 1977 documentary Pumping Iron.
Directed by George Butler and Robert Fiore, Pumping Iron showcases Schwarzenegger and others competing in the Mr. Olympia and Mr. Universe titles in South Africa. Not surprisingly, the documentary focuses mostly on Schwarzenegger, but also offers short profiles of Mike Katz, Ken Waller, Lou Ferrigno, and Franco Columbu. We see each of these men training, doing photo shoots, and of course competing.
I must admit this kind of competition proved a little harder to get into because it involves less movement than more high-intensity sports such as hockey or basketball. Bodybuilders are judged as if they are works of sculpture, and their competition involves various categories of posing, wherein they flex their muscles. The work for these competitions occurs in the gym, where they challenge themselves through lifting heavier and heavier weights, which we do see in multiple sequences throughout this documentary.
The documentary does try for some moments of levity, such as Schwarzenegger comparing weightlifting to orgasm, Waller stealing Katz’s shirt, and Schwarzenegger and Ferrigno bantering at the end. But these moments are fleeting in a documentary is otherwise slow in pace with the competition that feels anticlimactic. And with all of the awards already behind him, it comes as no surprise that Schwarzenegger wins.
Director George Butler also created Pumping Iron 2: The Women, which focused on female bodybuilders in competition.