Generation Iron (2013)

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Directed by: Vlad Yudin

For anyone who criticizes the vanity and narcissism that exists in the world of modelling it is perhaps worth looking at what goes on behind the cat walk. We judge models by appearance, and seldom see who the models are behind the catwalk. Appearance matters in all walks of life not just within the fashion world, but often how someone looks will strongly influence our opinions of them. I suppose with that in mind I’d also like to ask – What do you see when you see a ripped, muscular bodybuilder? Answers might include “meat head”, “steroid abuser”, or rather harshly “a dumb grunt with half a brain”.

‘Generation Iron’ is a wonderful documentary, because it gives us a glimpse behind the scenes of those bulky blokes who bronze themselves before they slip into tiny trunks and pose under stage lights. The documentary follows some of the world’s finest bodybuilders as they prepare for the Mr. Olympia bodybuilding contest. We have defending champion Phil Heath, his rival Kai Greene and a host of other colourful characters.

Micky Rourke’s narration gives the film the necessary gritty gravitas. Rourke is poetic and a powerful storytelling presence whose skilled voice ties together all the narratives. There’s a little bit of meddling by documentary maker Yedlin, who rather then documenting, appears to have edited a situation which paints his subjects as good guys and bad guys. This I think goes beyond the competitiveness which exists within the bodybuilding contest.

The most interesting competitors are the ones that don’t really make their mark in the contest. Dutchman Roelly Winklaar is escorted by a grizzly Grandmother figure, who looks like an retired battle worn East German athlete. Their working relationship is very strange, with Granny reading Winklaar the riot act because he stays up too late on his smartphone. Another interesting competitor is the seemingly undersized Hidetada Yamagishi from Japan who’s family back home has disowned him because of his career choice. Yamagishi’s journey is one of determination and sacrifice.

What the film does well is illustrate how the competitors are obsessed with attaining perfection either through brutal old fashioned gym workouts like the old school Branch Warren or Ben Pakulski taking advantage of sports science knowledge. It is Warren who represents gym warriors who give blood, sweat and tears as they pump iron. Working through injury, practically torturing themselves to get results. Bodybuilding is both an art and a science, and a lot of thought goes into sculpting a Mr. Olympia winning body.

The star of the film is Kai Greene, who has always been the bridesmaid and never been the bride. Greene is an interesting guy. Bodybuilding saved him from a life of crime in Brooklyn, and gave him focus and self-discipline. In his spare time he is an artist, and early in the film, the director captures Greene’s body as a work of art, as he poses in a subway. Greene is the guy we are rooting for, going against the cocky Phil Heath.

The film evolves nicely from 1977’s ‘Pumping Iron’, which started Schwarzenegger’s Hollywood journey from bodybuilder to badass actor. Competitor Dennis Wolf from Germany is trying to branch out and follow Arnie’s footprints into Hollywood. There’s a funny scene as Wolf attends an acting audition and trips over his words. Perhaps Wolf is the smartest competitor because he’s thinking about what comes next after he retires from bodybuilding. The others don’t seem to be considering what comes next because they are always striving for unobtainable levels of perfection.

‘Generation Iron’ is a solid documentary which sags a bit towards the end. It could do with a little bit of cutting, as when it comes to the competition things take a turn for the dull. Like ‘Senna’ this is a documentary that holds appeal to those who are not fans of sport.

7/10

– RJW

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