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DVD Review: Pumping Iron

By Glenn Abel

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photo Califonria Governor Schwarzenegger does spin control on this 1977 "docudrama" about bodybuilders at work in this DVD from HBO Video. Extras on the DVD version of "Pumping Iron" mostly play like promos for the film and its star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, but there is an odd and compelling new element.

In "Iron Insights," Gov.-elect Schwarzenegger sits alone for the camera, reeling off a 15-minute monologue about what he did and didn't do during the making of the hit 1977 "docudrama" about a bodybuilding competition.

"Now it is important for people to know what is real" in the film, Schwarzenegger intones, not elaborating on the urgency. "Certain things were not true."

Schwarzenegger smoothly revisits the film's hot spots, notably the marijuana, his psychological pummeling of guileless rival Lou Ferrigno and the scene in which he says he skipped his father's funeral in favor of training for the Mr. Olympia competition. Then there's that messy chat about orgasms and pumping iron. And the steroids.

Schwarzenegger, who was 28 at the time, offers up a scenario in which he played a villain, "a machine," to provide dramatic heft to the potentially monotonous footage of weight training. Investors demanded a bad guy; he took the part.

Schwarzenegger says he actually loved Ferrigno and helped him along. The story about missing his father's funeral really was about another, even more obsessive bodybuilder. Steroids were legal back then. As for the pot, "I inhaled."

"I made up a lot of this stuff because I feel that's the way you get attention," Schwarzenegger says today. "It really worked. People were shocked."

The low-budget 16mm "Pumping Iron" made its debut in sharp contrast to the party-hardy 1970s. Its in-your-face images of the bodybuilding subculture's well-oiled narcissism both startled and fascinated viewers, making for an unlikely boxoffice hit.

The docu made a pop-culture star of Schwarzenegger and launched his powerhouse film career. It also sparked the fitness craze that continues to this day, the filmmakers maintain.

"Pumping Iron: The 25th Anniversary Special Edition" mostly reprises the film-and-featurettes package that ran on Cinemax a few years back. Video (4:3) and audio (5.1 or 2.0) have been remastered, with decent results considering the source materials.

This DVD is no quickie -- it was planned well before Schwarzenegger's gubernatorial campaign. There's no mention of his political plans. But HBO Video is reeling in the bonus attention. The DVD was promoted in an unusual three-quarter-page ad Tuesday in the Los Angeles Times, on the same day that "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" was released.

In the extras, Liev Schreiber gives NFL Films-style narration to a 15-minute intro and a making-of docu, both strengthened by outtakes plucked from the 100 or so hours shot by director George Butler ("The Endurance").

The featured bodybuilders reunite and talk about what the film meant to them, both good and bad. Ferrigno, in particular, struggled to come to terms with his image in the film: "I felt like a freak."

Directors John Milius ("Conan the Barbarian") and James Cameron ("The Terminator") pay tribute to their star in a section on action films.

"He was the icon," Cameron says. "He set a standard." After Schwarzenegger and his physical domination, wannabe action heroes were put on notice, "You better have the goods."

Glenn Abel is Executive Editor, Electronic, at The Hollywood Reporter

Reprinted, with permission, from The Hollywood Reporter

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