Walking into the room, I felt the gaze of the audience judging every aspect of my physique, wondering if they’d notice my small calves or lack of tricep symmetry. Was I stepping on stage for my first contest?
No. This was the UK premiere of Generation Iron. Director and writer Vlad Yudin stepped up to the firing line, pitching the film as a sequel to Pumping Iron, a film that has developed legendary status amongst bodybuilders.
Therefore it wasn’t a surprise that the lean body mass and testosterone level in the Bristol Cinema De Lux hit a record high. Tupperware took the place of popcorn and oversized fizzy drinks were replaced by an assortment of shakers.
As the film rolled, we were greeted to an unprecedented view into the world of today’s elite bodybuilders, as they prepared for and competed in the 2012 Mr Olympia contest.
Unlike Pumping Iron, Yudin took an unglamorous approach, immersing the viewer in the regimented, disciplined and often-monotonous lifestyle of a bodybuilding pro; plain chicken, plain rice and injuries aplenty.
The film’s primary focus is on rivals Phil Heath and Kai Greene. Yudin creates a stark (and I suspect, exaggerated) contrast between the two: Heath ‘The Gift’ with his cushy home life, flashy cars and beautiful wife the polar opposite of solitary Greene, who makes ends meet posing in the subway and painting in his basic Brooklyn flat.
Other rivalries are also introduced as the film progresses. Branch Warren, a Texan with a hardcore training style and a ‘don’t mess with Texas’ attitude is compared to Ben Pakulski and his scientific approach to bodybuilding in a classic battle of brain versus brawn.
Warren trains at Metroflex Arlington, once home to the legend that is Ronnie Coleman, lifting huge weights apparently without regard for form or even his own health. Conversely, Pakulski trains with teams of scientists using the latest technology to analyse every aspect of his preparation; computers even monitor muscle activation during his sets!
It’s not all serious however. Some truly awful faux pas by Dennis Wolf and a particular situation regarding Branch Warren and a horse had the audience laughing in disbelief – I won’t include any spoilers. Conversations between Roelly Winklar and his unorthodox trainer ‘Grandma’ also added a humorous edge.
Interestingly, Generation Iron bucks the trend when it comes to bodybuilding’s Elephant in the room – steroid use. Yudin attempts to address the use of performance enhances in the sport, although he was unsuccessful in persuading any of the athletes to discuss them in a personal context.
Cameos from a number of bodybuilding greats keep things interesting, most notably from America’s favourite Austrian, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who goes on to suggest that bodybuilding has lost its focus, deviating from the quest for perfect proportions and symmetry, instead aiming for all out size.
The film is undoubtedly worth a watch, although it’s fairly single-minded approach might limit its appeal to bodybuilding fanatics. It does not glamourise the sport or feature a charismatic icon like the original bodybuilding blockbuster, Pumping Iron, ultimately making it an enjoyable watch, but not one that will be recited for the next 50 years.