A happy birthday from Arnold

I just couldn’t resist posting this image of Arnold Schwarzenegger holding a plate of meat and a glass of wine, wearing a shirt that reads “Arnold is Numero Uno,” and singing “Happy Birthday” to Lou Ferrigno, whom he had just trounced in the 1975 Mr. Olympia contest.  It’s taken from the bodybuilding doc Pumping Iron (dir. Robert Fiore and George Butler, 1977), which, like Saturday Night Fever, has a reputation for being 70s camp but is actually pretty decent.  Far from being simply a commercial for bodybuilding or for Schwarzenegger, it’s a quite revealing documentary in the verite style, following Schwarzenegger, Ferrigno, and others as they prepare for the competition, and raising some compelling questions about the very nature of bodybuilding.  Schwarzenegger explains quite matter-of-factly that he perceives his body as a kind of living sculpture to be molded and manipulated; in another scene, Ferrigno’s somewhat scarily intense father, who stage-manages every step of his training, compares his son’s body to a Michelangelo statue.  And (as the opening credits own) the film is part of a very long tradition of using the cinema to make a spectacle out of the human body.  Some of the very first silent films were, of course, simple studies of people sitting, standing, and exercising in front of the camera.  Linda Williams has called this phenomenon the “frenzy of the visible”—the preoccupation with using film technology to gaze in wonderment at the human form in motion.  Pumping Iron facilitates the pleasures of looking at bodies that are truly spectacular (in the purest sense of the word) while also gently encouraging us to consider the nature of that pleasure, and the phenomenon of bodybuilding altogether.  A worthwhile film.     

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