Raw Iron: The Making of Pumping Iron (2002)

rawiron_1Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno, Mike Katz, Franco Columbu, George Butler, Joe Weider, Bill Grant, Ken Waller, Reg Park, Ed Corney, Matty Ferrigno, Liev Schreiber, Sylvester Stallone, Bud Cort

Directed by Dave & Scott McVeigh

Expectations: Moderate.


I’m not in the habit of reviewing DVD extras, but this one seemed juicy enough considering I’ve covered all the other Arnold-related bodybuilding films. I’m hesitant to rate it, though, as it’s hard to really quantify its quality as a film. In any case, I really enjoyed watching it, and I think any big fan of Pumping Iron or Arnold would enjoy it too. So a definite thumbs up, but I’m going to forgo the stars this time.

There were over 100 hours of footage shot for Pumping Iron, so Raw Iron takes a different approach to the “Making of” documentary. Instead of simply gathering a bunch of people to talk to the camera and tell their stories, Raw Iron actually tells its story through deleted footage from the film. These scenes were kept in the vault until Raw Iron‘s release for Pumping Iron‘s 25th anniversary. This deleted footage is mostly great, too, from an unused sub-plot with Arnold trying to teach Harold and Maude‘s Bud Cort how to pump up in the gym, to the film’s bodybuilders posing on top of a Malibu mountain while listening to Arnold pontificate about “the pump.” It’s great fun to see all this unused footage.

rawiron_2What keeps Raw Iron from being a simple reel of deleted scenes are the interviews with the original participants, including everyone from director George Butler to Arnold himself. As someone tells a story about the filming, the relevant deleted scene plays out before you. What could have easily been an OK scene, thrown onto a DVD without any context for the audience, becomes an enlightening moment to the growth of the film, letting you into the thought process that eventually arrived at the finished film. I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like this and I’d love to see more “Making of” docs take some inspiration from what was done here, although most movies don’t have cameras rolling non-stop through production (well… at least not a lot of movies of this vintage :)).

Raw Iron also has the benefit of hindsight, so it delves a bit into Arnold’s desire for an acting career during the filming of Pumping Iron. His idol at the time was a man named Reg Park, a bodybuilder who had parlayed his physical strength into a five-film string of Italian Hercules films in the early ’60s. There’s some deleted footage of Arnold with Reg, relaxing by the pool and telling Reg how much of an influence he was. Reg provided something for young Arnold to strive towards, but no one could have predicted that Arnold would not only break into the industry, but drive the entire action film market towards hulking, shirtless, muscle-bound men who unmercifully kick ass in any and every situation.

rawiron_3I’m sure the ’80s and ’90s action films seem strange to those that didn’t live through the time, or even those that were adults at the time. But for me and those of my generation who grew up watching Arnold and his contemporaries blasting away on-screen, their muscles rippling with unfiltered testosterone, there is absolutely nothing like it. This type of action film can bring an instant smile to my face on the darkest of days. This sub-genre of action films has very much fallen out of favor (even with the success of The Expendables), but I still think there’s something of worth there to mine. I imagine there’s a hungry, young beast of a man just waiting to get his big-screen shot, and I hope the industry gives him the chance that Arnold was lucky enough to get.

And to think that initially Arnold was hesitant to participate in the filming of Pumping Iron because he wished to retire from competition and try his hand at acting. It just goes to show you that you never can tell what might come of an opportunity, so it’s always worthwhile to jump in and give your all.

I took a lot longer than expected to get through all these early Arnold films that I wanted to cover before delving into his “proper” filmography, but it was worth it. I feel like I understand his rise to action star better than I ever have, and the films were largely very enjoyable. Next up: CONAN THE BARBARIAN!!!

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