Directed by George Butler
Expectations: Moderate. This will be an interesting re-watch, as I saw this a bunch of times growing up.
Like the competitors it portrays, Pumping Iron II: The Women is a slimmer version of its male counterpart. It successfully replicates the struggle of the previous film, between one “good & honest” bodybuilder and one “villain” bodybuilder. In reality, I’m sure it was much less emotionally charged than it appears at times in the film, and because of the fictionalizing done in Pumping Iron I was constantly watching for similar instances in this film. Due to this, Pumping Iron II actually feels even more fabricated and questionable as a documentary, but that shouldn’t discredit it, just like the previous film.
The film focuses mostly on four of the competitors, but two are clearly the stars of the show. There’s Rachel McLish, at the time the most successful female bodybuilder and responsible for bringing a lot of attention to the sport for females. She has something of a more defined model look, which is to say that she maintains her feminine physique while achieving quality muscle tone. She was the crossover star of the sport, perfect for magazine covers to interest all who gaze her way.
The competitors have a couple of conversations amongst themselves about these very questions, and even they can’t decide. It’s hard to say if it is too much anyway, as everyone’s opinions of beauty and femininity are different. There’s no real equivalent to the question in male bodybuilding that I’m aware of either, so I inherently feel that the question should be thrown out in the interest of allowing each competitor to present themselves however they’d like to.
On top of that, those conversations I mentioned between the competitors about the ethics of women’s bodybuilding all occur in highly unlikely, sexualized situations. After a hard day of pumping iron, three of our female weight trainers relax with a hot shower, soaping up their nude bodies in slo-mo while they discuss their thoughts on what constitutes too much training. A similar, later conversation takes place at the Caesar’s Palace hotel in an outdoor pool. It feels strange to watch these feminist-leaning discussions under such traditionally sexualized situations, and it is in these moments where I feel the director is exerting his power over the film. Based on my understanding of how Pumping Iron was made, it would be completely plausible to assume that the director heard a few of the girls discussing the topic and asked them to recreate the scene for the camera… in the hotel’s rooftop pool under the stars. This definitely discredits the scenes a bit, but regardless it is still very interesting to hear everyone’s opinion on the subject, especially as they are fellow competitors. It feels like they, if anyone, should be understanding, but yet there are those who feel Francis is gross and well beyond what she should be.
Pumping Iron was about the hows of a bodybuilding competition, while Pumping Iron II: The Women is more about the whys. It’s not as good of a film, as its runtime is padded with a little too much competition footage and slo-mo shower scenes, but it’s still a very interesting and engrossing film.