Many sports fans grew up watching Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Pumping Iron” and Lou Ferrigno on those “Strongest Man in the World” competitions in the 1970s. These men sparked real interest in bodybuilding, especially after they became pop culture icons.
“Generation Iron,” an engaging documentary from director Vlad Yudin, features men who have obviously been influenced by Schwarzenegger and Ferrigno. Yudin explores the challenges and demands of competitive bodybuilding, most notably food intake and shedding water weight.
“Making this film was kind of like a journey; I discovered so much about this culture, this sport, this art form. It’s really more of an art form than a sport really,” Yudin explained when reached by phone for an interview.
[Check out Mind the Gap’s video of “Never Gonna Stop,” the song that has become the theme of “Generation Iron”]
Grotesque to some, art form to others
Yudin said he always thought that bodybuilding was one of those sports that was completely undiscovered to so many people outside of it: “It has a huge following, but if you are not familiar with it, you don’t know truly what it’s all about. At the same time, bodybuilding often got a lot of negative press. A lot of us are very judgmental towards bodybuilding because obviously the steroid accusations. And people saying it’s not necessarily an art form.”
The director was surprised when he got a chance to meet the athletes and discover their stories. Kai Greene, for instance, is an exceptionally engaging character. As shown in the documentary, he puts tremendous effort into his Mr. Olympia training, but he just misses the brass ring.
“Kai is an underdog; people always gravitate to underdogs, I think. You can relate to his story in many ways. If you look at other stories where people actually struggle and they overcome something and they really come from nothing-that’s his story really,” Yudin said. “I think when people see [the film] and don’t know anything about bodybuilding, they can relate to his story.”
Phil “The Gift” Heath also is a guy to watch. As of this writing, he is a three-time Mr. Olympia champion.
“Phil is at the top of the mountain. He won it three times in a row, which is great. There have only been 13 Mr. Olympia’s and he’s the 13th one. That’ll tell how difficult and tough the sport is to win,” the director said. “You really have to impress the judges to the point where there’s no second guessing. It has to be unanimous. For him to be that three times in a row, that’s tremendous.”
Making an honest film about bodybuilding
To offer a real honest look at the sport, director Yudin said he had to get full access to the competitors. To make that happen, though, he first had to gain their trust.
“I was obviously an outsider to all of them. I’m not into bodybuilding; I’m not in that world. I’m coming in as a filmmaker, so it definitely takes some time to build that trust,” he explained. “It really took a lot of honest conversations, and I had to explain my vision about what I wanted to do it.”
Mickey Rourke adds that something special to the piece as the narrator of “Generation Iron.”
“From the beginning, I wanted to have a narrator in the film, and Mickey was the name that made the most sense. He was definitely the Number 1 choice. In many ways, he related to the topic because his father used to be an amateur bodybuilder in New York. So he related to these guys.” Yudin said.
“Generation Iron” now is available on iTunes and On Demand. You also can find the movie at the official website.