With a movie like PUMPING IRON, the GEORGE BUTLER documentary that broke bodybuilding and ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER into the mainstream, you see some heart on display, but you also see unbridled ambition. The film was released in 1977 and focused on the 1975 IFBB MR. UNIVERSE and the 1975 IFBB MR. OLYMPIA championships. 1977's STAR WARS may be the film remembered most for it's epic battle but PUMPING IRON had an epic battle of it's own. In one corner, you had the ultimate alpha male. A 6'2", 235 pound Austrian guy with mighty arms, shoulders and pecs. Just as broad as the man's shoulders was his smile which brandished a gap in his teeth. And that voice, high and gentle, ran contrary to his herculean physique and pronounces v-sounds like f-sounds and r-sounds like ah sounds. At the time of the filming, SHWARZENEGGER was a four time MR. OLYMPIA winner.
In the other corner was a 6'5" beast from Brooklyn and an IFBB MR UNIVERSE and IFBB MR. AMERICA winner. Like ARNOLD, the man has a voice that doesn't measure up his mighty frame. The deficit in his speech is due to being 80% deaf. Unlike ARNOLD, there is a gentleness that shines through. Like ROCKY BALBOA , you get a sense right away that there is something at stake for this guy. He's had a great deal to fight for and even though physically he is the bigger man, ARNOLD is the Goliath with his five MR. OLYMPIA wins.
ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER's star power is evident right from the first frame of the film where he and fellow bodybuilder FRANCO COLUMBO are receiving dance instruction in a dance studio. Not for the purposes of ballet dancing but in how to gracefully move from one pose to another and how to capture the audience or the attention of the judges to certain aspects of the physique. The sight of a massive guy like ARNOLD going through this sort of excercise seems silly but it makes all of the sense in the world when showcasing a physique such s ARNOLD's.
The documentary shifts it's attention to GOLD'S GYM - the mecca fo bodybuilding and even among other bodybuilders, ARNOLD stands out by a mile by simply working out and training other guys in lifting and offering posing tips. At the time of the production of this documentary, ARNOLD had been with the sport of ten years, having won his first bodybuilding title, the JUNIOR MR EUROPE in 1965. Throughout, his bodybuilding career he had consistently placed first in whatever competition he competed in. He placed second only three times, losing to CHET YORTON in the NABBA MR. UNIVERSE AMATEUR in 1966, FRANK ZANE in the IFBB MR. UNIVERSE in 1968 and to SERGIO OLIVA in the 1969 MR. OLYMPIA. "I don't have any weak points." said ARNOLD in the film. "I had weak points three years ago, but my main thing in mind is, my goal always was, to even out everything to the point... that everything is perfect. Which means if I want to increase one muscle a half inch, the rest of the body has to increase. I would never make one muscle increase or decrease, because everything fits together now, and all I have to do is get my posing routine down more perfect, which is almost impossible to do, you know. It's perfect already."
This sort of winning attitude was almost unheard of in a post-Vietnam era where men in the movies were of the anti-hero variety a'la DUSTIN HOFFMAN, ROBERT DENIRO and JACK NICHOLSON. None of thes men were about massive arms and shoulders, big broad smiles and a can-do attitude. Reflecting this "can-do" spirit is a curious moment in the documentary where ARNOLD is flexing bare-chested in front of male prisoners and getting catcalled and ARNOLD, being the boss he is, simply laps it up.
In the film, ARNOLD describes the visceral sensation of the "pump", the pay off that comes with the lifting of weights and flexing every muscle of the body. "The greatest feeling you can get in a gym, or the most satisfying feeling you can get in the gym is... The Pump. Let's say you train your biceps. Blood is rushing into your muscles and that's what we call The Pump. Your muscles get a really tight feeling, like your skin is going to explode any minute, and it's really tight - it's like somebody blowing air into it, into your muscle. It just blows up, and it feels really different. It feels fantastic."
He goes on with his description of the "pump" as something sexual. "It's as satisfying to me as, uh, coming is, you know? As, ah, having sex with a woman and coming. And so can you believe how much I am in heaven? I am like, uh, getting the feeling of coming in a gym, I'm getting the feeling of coming at home, I'm getting the feeling of coming backstage when I pump up, when I pose in front of 5,000 people, I get the same feeling, so I am coming day and night. I mean, it's terrific. Right?"
This was a real clash of the titans but according to the film's director GEORGE BUTLER, most of the documentary's filming time was spent covering another clash - the one between bodybuilders MIKE KATZ and KEN WALLER.
If ARNOLD was the alpha male , MIKE KATZ was decidedly beta. A soft spoken family man with a heart seemingly as large has his intimidating biceps. He is first introduced in the film competing in a bodybuilding contest that looks like it's being held in a high school gymnasium and flexing before an ecstatic crowd. The scene is a million miles away from the spectacle of a bodybuilding show these days with rock concert lighting and a sound system. You get a sense of how "on the fringe" the sport was in the sevenites. In the next frame, KATZ is giving piggyback rides for his children. This one scene immediately puts a human face to the widely misunderstood sport.
Where ARNOLD comes of fbrash and confident, KATZ is a measured man with a painful past and something to prove. When he speaks of the prejudice he faced for being Jewish, there is faint bitterness in his recitation but no hint of an ax to grind. No evidence of a massive chip on his massive shoulder and if there is a good guy in PUMPING IRON, KATZ is it. Without a doubt, KATZ sports a massive physique, but it lacks the defintion and aesthetic of ARNOLD's and the camera doesn't love KATZ in the way that it loves ARNOLD, so any discussion star power is moot.
And the nemesis? KATZ has one in in the lean, mean, gingery KEN WALLER. With his chiseled, freckled countenance, determined chin and copper hair, WALLER exudes all of the confidence that KATZ seems to lack and is immediately painted as the bully/villain of this particular story arc. He is introduced tossing a football around with fellow bodybuilders on a park field and disparaging KATZ' physique and views him as no competition in the upcoming MR. UNIVERSE to be held in Pretoria, South Africa. While tossing the football around, WALLER has a plan to trip KATZ up. He's going to take his shirt in an attempt to psyche him out and make him nervous while he's one stage. "Whatever he's got, I'm gonna hide it from him and mess him up a little bit!"
In a documentary where muscle and mass are the hook, the audience learns that the sport of bodybuilding is not merely about physiology. It's about psychology and the psychological warfare that takes place in the sport. While bodybuiliding is not a contact sport in the way that football is, it has other ways of undermining an opponent. This is called the "psyche out" - finding a weakness in the opponent and using it against them. Victims of the "psyche out" suffer insecurity and a lack of concentration that can effect their performance on stage and adversely effect how the judges of the competiton view them. Sadly, KATZ walks into the trap backstage at the MR. UNIVERSE. As KATZ weighs in for the contest, WALLER leers at him ominously, while some rather ominous, funky sounding theme music plays, as if to alert the audience to the mustache-twirling going on. In another frame, KATZ flexes in the mirror with WALLER right behind him. Truth be told, WALLER is a great deal more defined than KATZ who looks like he's holding water and ballooning out. As WALLER takes his physique to the stage, KATZ paces the backstage nervously asking if anyone has seen his blue t-shirt lying around. His nervousness is juxtaposed with WALLER hitting every pose confidently on stage. Soon, KATZ makes his way to the posing dais and begins to pose. Where WALLER's transitions from pose to pose were effortless, KATZ's transition are abrupt and shaky. His mind is clearly on his missing shirt and not the routine at hand. As KATZ poses he conveys in his voice over narration the long road it took to get to this point in his bodybuilding career. "It took me five years to get to MR. CONNECTICUT. It took me four years to get to MR. AMERICA. This is my fifth year trying ot win MR. UNIVERSE. I'm not a quitter."
KATZ's fighting spirit proves no match for WALLER's physique and slick maneuvering. It's WALLER that wins the MR. UNIVERSE of 1975 leaving KATZ to deflate backstage after having come in fourth place. The sight of KATZ fighting back tears is heartwrenching enough, but making the scene more pitiful is KATZ' singing the praises of WALLER. The defeat is profound. The "good guy" has lost. Clearly, this isn't a congeniality contest and the viewer's heart sinks with KATZ's. He walks away from the camera sans shirt to call his family and to offer WALLER his congratulations.
Following the defeat of MIKE KATZ, the documentary shifts it's attention back to the upcoming 1975 MR. OLYMPIA. If there is any formidable competition for ARNOLD at this point, it is the forboding mass that is LOU FERRIGNO, but on film the Brooklyn-based bodybuilder emerges as a gentle giant who has to fight two battles on two different fronts. One is with the constant reminder that he is going to head to head with a five-time MR. OLYMPIA winner like ARNOLD and the other involves his domineering father MATTY, a retired police officer who oversees every aspect of LOU's training and possibly his personal life. MATTY's dominance in the scenes where LOU's massive frame should steal the show brings to mind the relationship between DR. FRANKENSTEIN and his monster. In the behind the scenes look at PUMPING IRON called RAW IRON, LOU FERRIGNO admits to being devastated with how he came across on the screen as a creature in need of sympathy and LOU's devastation is not hard to imagine. In preparation for the upcoming 1975 MR. OLYMPIA, the films shows how two different men go about reaching the goal of a MR. OLYMPIA victory and the contrasts are night and day. ARNOLD is based in sunny California training under the skylighted ceiling of GOLD'S GYM and hanging out on the beach with fellow bodybuilders and getting his picture taken with some rather fine looking women. LOU is training in a dark dungeon-like gym in a basement with some flabby looking guys and growling like a caged animal when benching 200 pounds and knowing that he can't stop because of the threat that ARNOLD could walk away with the trophy.
The psychological warfare executed by KEN WALLER at the MR. UNIVERSE is nothing in comparison to ARNOLD's mastery of it. One could almost imagine ARNOLD writing on the subject. ARNOLD is a master strategist and is prepared to go to war with in the same way GENERAL DWIGHT EISENHOWER went about planning D-DAY. When the players in this drama meet in South Africa for the MR. OLYMPIA, ARNOLD gets to work on LOU at breakfast with the FERRIGNOS. Over a breakfast of steak and god knows how many eggs, ARNOLD begins chipping away at LOU's armor verbally pointing out that LOU got his timing wrong for the competiton and maybe if this had taken place a few months later, he would probably win. LOU's father MATTY states that he wouldn't turn his back on ARNOLD in five hundred yards. LOU remians quiet through much of the meal and is visibly shaken by the psyche out. As had been done to MIKE KATZ, FERRIGNO's weakness has been exposed and will cost him dearly on the dais. On the night of hte show, ARNOLD continues the intimidation backstage in the pump room. His eyes never leave FERRIGNO who puts up a brave face but the damage is done. When ARNOLD and LOU hit the stage, LOU is outshone by ARNOLD's radiance and places third behind SERGE NUBRET and ARNOLD in the heavyweight division of the MR. OLYMPIA. Off stage, LOU is re-assured by MATTY that he is going to be bigger next year and he will win the title. The contest ends wit hthe final posedown between ARNOLD, the heavyweight winner and his friend, the diminutive FRANCO COLUMBO, who walked away with the lightweight title. Cowering from ARNOLD's intimidating stare and stage presence, FRANCO comes undone and ARNOLD wins the overall title for the sixth time. Any hope of LOU beating ARNOLD the next time is squashed when ARNOLD announces that he is retiring at the age of 28 from the bodybuilding stage. With ARNOLD's victory complete he gets a cake and throws an impromptu birthday party for LOU. The sight of all of these bodybuilders singing happy birthday warms the heart and demonstrates the true camraderie that exists in this sport. That camraderie is extended in a ride to the Airport where ARNOLD goes on about having dinner with the FERRIGNOS and how LOU's mom is going to set him up with his sister. In a film where ARNOLD reigns supreme, you couldn't ask for a better ending.
"What do you know about me?" asked SHAWN RAY when we were able to get him on the phone for this story. I told him what I knew. He was a retired IFBB pro who was inducted into the IFBB Hall of Fame in 2007 and that he was runner up in the MR. OLYMPIA championship. Since this story is about ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER and PUMPING IRON, I felt it important to note that he was the winner of ARNOLD CLASSIC in 1991. However, not being involved in the sport of bodybuilding, I feared that I may have left something out.
"Well let me give you a little background on me and the ARNOLD CLASSIC."
Had SHAWN RAY not found bodybuilding, one would have expected his caramel colored, movie star good looks to have gotten him somewhere. Instead, he found bodybuilding as a teenager from Orange County, California. In the beginning, he competed in numerous regional bodybuilding championships. By 1987, he had made it to the Nationals. In 1990, RAY competed in the second annual ARNOLD CLASSIC and won the title. The title is not exactly winning a MR. OLYMPIA but it's the next best thing. In a perfect world, things would only go up from there, but sadly that wasn't the case. After winning the title, it had been determined that RAY failed the drug test. As a result, his title was taken back and given to the second place winner MIKE ASHLEY. The prize of $60,000 also had to be returned. RAY was shamed as a cheater and was suspended from the IFBB for a period of seven months.
"It was here that I knew I had to prove myself." says RAY "I knew that I wasn't a cheater. I had to prove that I belonged on that stage. I had done too much up that point to go out this way."
And prove himself he did. When his seven month suspension was over, RAY competed in the 1990 MR OLYMPIA and placed third behind winner LEE HANEY and second place winner LEE LABRADA. In 1991, he competed in the ARNOLD CLASSIC again and won, this time holding onto the title. "This was my chance to start over again and I never looked back from that moment on. I got the redemption that I needed."
It's a story that deserves a film itself. Since his win in 1991, RAY enjoyed a strong competitive streak until his retirement at age 36 in 2001. The 52-year-old retired IFFB pro has been in charge of the media coverage for the ARNOLD CLASSIC for MUSCULAR DEVELOPMENT MAGAZINE and was the host of the podcast series MUSCULAR DEVELOPMENT RADIO. He recently stepped down from his senior analyst position at MUSCULAR DEVELOPMENT MAGAZINE to become the seniour analyst and producer for GENERATION IRON FITNESS NETWORK. To this day, RAY owes a debt to the film PUMPING IRON and it's star.
"There is not a bodybuilder post-PUMPING IRON that doesn't look to that film as an inspiration. If you are bodybuilder, you are living that movie. It's so iconic and it almost has no time. Every bodybuilder out there now still refers back to that movie. You get this great sense of camraderie. ARNOLD is a guy who is so condfident in what his mission is and he really clings to the blueprint. And in watching him in this film, I got the sense that that could be me on stage. After seeing this movie as a teenager, I was sold."
One of the scenes from the film that stand out for RAY the most is ARNOLD's victory in the 1975 MR. OLYMPIA and the nonchalance with which the victory was greeted with.
"The most telling scene for me is at the MR. OLYMPIA where they announce the winner, and ARNOLD rubs his chin as if he's saying 'mission accomplished'. That moment there was like the net result of his sacrifice and he knew it. There is a cockiness and smugness that comes through. He knew the conclusion before it was over. When it was all done with it was like he was saying 'I did it bitches!' LOU FERRIGNO places third and you can see the agony of defeat. ARNOLD got to him before the show and even throws a jab at him at the end when ARNOLD talks about dating LOU's sister."
Another moment that resonated for RAY are the moments between LOU FERRIGNO and his father.
"The scenes between LOU FERRIGNO and his dad came across well for me. It was really something to see a father take an interest in what his son was trying to do. When I was growing up my dad never had anything to do with bodybuilding. My dad was a janitor and he didn't know what to make of all of this bodybuilding stuff."
RAY turned to bodybuilding following a football injury at the age of 18. In high school, he was an MVP at El Dorado High School where he se the school's record for all-time rushing record and the record for the longest running scrimmage. Following his injury he remained on the sidelines in crutches. In order to heal, he joined a gym and started working out and noticed that his body was starting to change. "I felt like I was being challenged again and I wanted to take my body to places I had never taken it to before."
As a high school senior, RAY got his feet wet in the sport of bodybuilding and in the space of two years wone such regional titles as the CALIFORNIA GOLD CUP, the MR TEENAGE LOS ANGELES, the TEENAGE MR. CALIFORNIA and the TEENAGE MR. CALIFORNIA. He moved on to national competitions and snagged such titles as the JUNIOR WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP and the NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP. As a professional bodybuilder, RAY consistently placed inthe top five of the MR. OLYMPIA from 1990 to 2001 and hasd been featured onthe cover of every major bodybuilding publication.
"This sport has taught me so much. It taught me about determination and focus and seeing the finish line and I've had a great life and career because of it. I just want to pinch myself to make sure it's not all a dream. It's been great!"
* * *Needless to say , the film PUMPING IRON changed a few things. At the very least it changed the lives of it's two stats ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER and LOU FERRIGNO. ARNOLD was able to transfer that muscle bound charisma of his to the silver screen and yield a net return of box office gold. It all started with CONAN THE BARBARIAN and it's sequel CONAN THE DESTROYER , however it was his signature role as the cyberdyne mercenary in the TERMINATOR that ulimately sealed his iconic status. The soldier/mercenary figure in cinema was one that served him well in such bocx office smashes as PREDATOR, COMMANDO and RAW DEAL. Hell, the guy even proved that he had some comedic chops which were brought to full effect in such films as TWINS and KINDERGARTEN COP. He would return to the TERMINATOR franchise in 1991, but this time as the good guy. When the film roles became less than inspired (JINGLE ALL THE WAY, THE SIXTH DAY, END OF DAYS and COLLATERAL DAMAGE), ARNOLD went the unexpected route of politics and became Governor of the State of California for two terms. Sure there was controversy over some alleged groping that supposedly took place years prior, but we're learning, in this ever changing world, that a matter such as this couldn't possibly slow anyone down. Almost immediately after the release of PUMPING IRON, LOU FERRIGNO went on to greater fame as the titular hero in the action drama series THE INCREDIBLE HULK from 1978 to 1982. He dabbled in film bring the role of HERCULES to life with an overdubbed voice. That's about all we'll say on the matter there. LOU returned to competitive bodybuilding in 1992 placing 12th in the MR OLYMPIA and then 10th in 1993. It was when the OLYMPIA committee established the MASTERS OLYMPIA for older athletes in 1994 where LOU placed second. This was the closest he would get to the top.
BRiAN LUSH (FOUNDER, EDiTOR-iN-CHiEF)
CONTACT BRiAN LUSH AT: firstname.lastname@example.org