The late 1970s brought a docudrama film to the big screen about men, muscles and competition in Pumping Iron.
Focusing on the world of body building competitions, Pumping Iron was produced and directed by photographer/filmmaker George Butler.
Butler had first photographed bodybuilders in 1972 at the Mr. Universe competition in Iran, where he first met Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Three years later, Butler decided to do his first documentary, focusing on the Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia competitions in 1975, and the 100 days leading up to the competitions in Pretoria, South Africa.
Butler focused first on the competitive rivalry between Mike Katz and Ken Waller, showing their competitive style, insecurities and backgrounds before the final competitions of Mr. Universe.
Then Butler turns his lens on Arnold Schwarzenegger, the five time winner of Mr. Olympia and his focus on winning another title before retirement. He is challenged by the newcomer Lou Ferrigno, and Butler shows the marked differences between the two men – how they train, their personal lifestyles and how Schwarzenegger uses psychology to affect Ferrigno’s performance .
However, Butler did not have the money to finish the film, and had to seek a funding solution. He arranged an “exhibit” with the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, using the bodybuilders as living sculptures, comparing them to classical Greek sculptures using art critics . He also asked actress Candice Bergen to be a celebrity critic, had Schwarzenegger as part of the exhibit, which became a success and led to the completion of the film.
Released in January 1977, the docudrama was a big screen success, illuminating the subculture of bodybuilding, showcasing Schwarzenegger and Ferrigno, as well as encouraging many new bodybuilding gyms to open across America.
Schwarzenegger went on to focus on his film career, while Ferrigno went on to become the Incredible Hulk.