Director: Vlad Yudin
The Vladar Company
Synopsis: The spiritual successor to George Butler and Robert Fiore’s 1977 documentary, Pumping Iron, Vlad Yudin’s study on the art and error of body building is fascinating, compelling in its examination of the form of a professional sport equal parts visual aestheticism and physical prowess.
Overview: Like 1977’s Pumping Iron, a documentary feature on the sport and the art of bodybuilding that introduced the world to two of the 1980’s biggest action movie stars, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno, Vlad Yudin’s Generation Iron examines the hubristic follies inherent to a sport that appears seemingly bereft of any intelligent maneuvering from its players, the meathead stereotype that plagues the musclemen who compete on the world stage in such events as Mr. Olympia and Mr. Universe pervasive in its obfuscation of what is perhaps the world’s most political sport.
Focusing on the central antagonism between two of the sport’s fiercest competitors of the 48th Annual Mr. Olympia competition, the reigning champion Phil Heath and the hopeful underdog Kai Greene, Yudin’s film examines the various mental orchestrations of character and physical contortions of body that each of Mr. Olympia’s competitors undergo in order to stand out, each one of them angling for the chance to be the next Arnold Schwarzenegger.
In its diverse cast of characters, Yudin’s film takes in a wide sampling of ego and ambition, much like the 1977 feature to which it owes much of its formal structure and narrative inspiration. In Phil Heath, you get the cocksureness of Schwarzenegger, in Kai Greene the wounded humility of Lou Ferrigno, in Ronnie Coleman, Schwarzenegger’s courtship with Hollywood, and in Branch Warren, the American inflected ingenuity of Ferrigno. While each of the contestants depicted in Yudin’s film comes with their own respective shortcomings, some possessed of an innately charismatic talent, others being merely physically capable, every one of Yudin’s subjects come with their own battle scars and personal baggage, the undercurrents of human drama making Generation Iron just as emotionally revelatory as its predecessor.
At the heart of Generation Iron’s story on the strive towards perfection, quantifiably achieved through the physical efforts of the bodies on display, as well as the more internal struggles of fundamentally damaged individuals, Vlad Yudin is able to make art out of one of the more misunderstood professional sports. While bodybuilding is by no means a wildly popular spectator event, its entertainment value notably miniscule, investment in its artistry largely personal for those directly involved in its competitions, Generation Iron makes heroes out of its summarily self-involved stars. In Phil Heath and Kai Greene, we get to see two men characteristically dissimilar but fundamentally the same, Heath’s arrogance just as rooted in an essential desire for self-worth that Greene’s humility comparatively lends to an individual born out of economic hardship.
As the film draws to a close, with Kai Greene returning to his home apartment in New York, his penultimate loss is negated by the poeticism of a soul in torment able to overcome the disappointment of defeat. In Greene’s final statements of the film wherein he claims to have seen Phil Heath bleed, there is hope offered to all of the contestants in Yudin’s film, Heath’s near defeat symbolic of theirs, and communally shared on the stage of competition broadcast internationally as a means of connection with a world full of broken souls capable of being mended via physiological determination.