Pumping Iron Essay

Schwarzenegger movie essays

A large part of our Arnold Schwarzenegger project necessarily involves a consideration of his films. Below are listed some brief descriptions of the essays we intend to write about these films. Two of the essays are available here.

See a more complete list of Schwarzenegger movies with his comments.

Hercules Goes Bananas
Schwarzenegger’s first film as “Arnold Strong” teams him with perennial nerd Arnold Stang in a bizarre Hercules tale. The film in retrospect is a blueprint for Schwarzenegger’s mythological journey to success and heroic stature. Hercules and bodybuilding in 50s and 60s masculinity are examined.

Last Action Hero: What Next?
What does it mean to be the last action hero? Schwarzenegger’s film marks the end of one filmmaking era and the beginning of another: film and real life are seen as interchangeable and Schwarzenegger marks this juncture. The technologies of virtual reality and film special-effects; film as a reference for reality; crossing the film-life membrane; near-news and video surveillance. What will be the last action of this hero figure? If he is the last hero, what will he become next?

The Villain: Lasting Impressions
In one of the worst films ever made, Schwarzenegger teams with Kirk Douglas and Ann Margaret to play, as he does in many films, a virginal, innocent hero. It is the prequel to Last Action Hero; when villains become heroes; vigilante justice; the dangers of women to heroic icons.

Pumping Iron or The Jayne Mansfield Story without Jayne
Schwarzenegger takes center stage in a documentary and a film biography that are not supposed to be about him. Are Schwarzenegger and Jayne Mansfield both examples of self-production replacing reproduction? Morphing of the body and the movies as perpetual morphing.

Conan the Barbarian, Conan the Destroyer, Conan the Republican
Film as mythology; what place do myths have in technical societies; animated films and new mythological possibilities; politics as cartoons. Icons as tools for establishing communities of like-minded people.

Kindergarten Cop and the Chaos of Children
Schwarzenegger’s work as chair of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports under George Bush has meant a renewed attention to children’s fitness. What controversies rage about how this fitness is to be achieved; what kinds of spiritual and intellectual fitness are being promoted along with the physical; marketing movies to children; Arnold and Clint’s boot camp for minority kids; fitness as control; the desire to control gender crossings; how all these themes are promoted in KCop.

Men’s stories of self, origin, and significance are being rewritten in this post-war (Vietnam and Iraq) period. Contributing stories for other men’s renewal are Arnold Schwarzenegger and H. Norman Schwarzkopf. How does Schwarzkopf operationalizes the principles that Schwarzenegger has come to embody both physically and in his films? Using the model of Schwarzenegger’s film, Twins, we trace the emergence of two men, separated at the premature birth of the new world order (Vietnam), who have come together in the Bush administration to rewrite the story of masculinity and patriotism in the late 20th century.

Stay Hungry: Arnoldian Food
Visiting Schwarzenegger’s restaurants.

Running Man: Fit to Fit In
Schwarzenegger as a model for the consumption of physical, mental, social and political fitness.

Red Sonja: Border Wars with Sylvester Stallone
How can the rivalry between Stallone and Schwarzenegger be seen as a struggle for the kinds of icons we should have? Stallone’s grounding in reality, class, and a mythic past, Schwarzenegger’s in the imagination, universality, and the future.

Waste Management: Commando, Raw Deal, and Red Heat
A discussion of violence and film; how we use films to interpret everyday life; does film violence lead to real violence (and does film kindness lead to real kindness).

Totalitarian Drift: The Total Recall of Control
Are we willing more and more to give up control over our lives in order to get what the films have previously promised-- closure and certainty? What role do memories and dreams play in our everyday lives and how do we use films to filter these?

Predator: Reach Out and Touch Someone
What kinds of touch will be possible/likely/desired in the future when we are all tied to communication technologies? Are people going to want to touch each other or will technology replace physical contact? How will nature come back into play? Predator suggests that technology is a neutral ground and humans are the problematic element.

Terminator: Human Thresholds
How have we pushed the boundaries between humans and animals and now humans and machines? What does this mean for the kinds of stories people can construct about their own lives? In the blockbuster Terminator and the mythology that developed around this film character we see the culmination of Schwarzenegger’s activities: a new world order centered on his iconic image.

Linda Hamilton's arms became the talk of the summer of 1991, at least among women viewers of Terminator 2. Linda Hamilton's arms are a signal of the shift towards the infusion of human will into biological changes. Like genetic engineering, synthesized organs, or the design for acrylic wombs, her arms are located at the crisis between biology and technology. Other examples of this crisis: women in the military, the “Sperminator” fertility doctor, the mythology and technology of male birthing, women and guns.

Terminator 2, Part 2: The Death of Bodybuilding and the Incredible Shrinking Society
To enable himself to grow into the unprecedented enormity he would achieve through this hugely expensive film, Arnold had to get smaller. As he explained at a bodybuilding competition to a screaming crown, he was too big for the film-frame and needed to reduce his size in order to fit better on the screen. The reason he had to do this is because there is a coming together of film and reality which requires the smaller body. The earlier, "fantastic" films (Conan, Hercules, Red Sonja) demanded mythically proportioned bodies. His more recent films demand that he be more in keeping with his actual public persona. He had to transform himself from being a stellar-sized body to being a stealth-body, one that could easily move in and out of his multiple iconic roles.

Erasure as an act of power; memory and erasure; dreams as a form of erasure, weakening connections rather than strengthening them.

Batman & Robin

Harvard Historian David Noble has suggested that the entire history of Western science is tainted with the desire to find a way to eliminate women from reproduction. If Arnold accomplishes this in Junior, is this a sign of the end of history?

True Lies

Jingle All the Way

End of Days

The 6th Day

Collateral Damage

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines


© 1996–2009, Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. (Copyright Notice)

The rise of Arnold Schwarzenegger

by Roger Ebert

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CANNES, France -- The first time I met Arnold Schwarzenegger was in 1977 at a film festival in Dallas. He was there for the premiere of "Pumping Iron," the documentary that launched his film career and, paradoxically, allowed audiences to relate to him as a person and not just as an assembly of muscles. What I remember is that between the two screenings of the movie, Arnold found a quiet corner backstage and opened his textbooks. He was studying for a college exam.

A few years later, in the early 1980s, he'd become a movie star, but he was still into the serious self-improvement stuff. Yes, he said, he was making good money from his films: "But to date I've made more money from my investments than from my Hollywood paychecks." He seemed quietly proud of that evidence of brain over brawn.


I met Schwarzenegger most recently at this year's Cannes festival, where, after the success of "Total Recall," "Kindergarten Cop," "Terminator 2" and some of his other hits, nobody thought to ask him if his portfolio was still outperforming his paychecks. Now that's he's making $10 million and up, per picture, plus a percentage of the profits, I think we can safely assume he has turned the corner and can stop pouring over those back issues of Money magazine.

The key to Schwarzenegger's success has always been hard work. He pumped iron harder than anyone else, and then he threw himself into a movie career with such energy and determination that he became, against all the odds and despite his Austrian accent, the number one movie star in the world. Now he had come to Cannes to promote "The Last Action Hero," an action extravaganza that cost a rumored $60 to $70 million, and will open Friday in every city, town and hamlet where light is still projected through celluloid onto a screen.

The movie is based on the magical blurring of the division between a movie and its audience--a gimmick that has worked before in the movies, from Buster Keaton's "Sherlock, Jr." all the way up to Woody Allen's "The Purple Rose of Cairo." In the film, Schwarzenegger plays a movie action hero who somehow finds that his biggest fan, a kid who watches all of his movies countless times, is somehow in the back seat of his car during a chase scene. How did the kid get from the audience into the movie? Did it have something to do with an enchanted ticket from a kindly old theater manager? Maybe. And it also had a lot to do with the inspired box-office idea of giving Arnold a young sidekick that the kids in the audience can identify with.

As Arnold greeted his visitors at Cannes, watching him in action was a lesson in time and motion studies. Working from the verandah of the Hotel du Cap d'Antibes, with the blue Mediterranean and the yachts of several millionaires as a backdrop, he ground out the television and print interviews. He had flown in the day before, and might excusably have claimed jet-lag, but no: Arnold was affable and cheerful, shaking hands, slapping backs, acting like the greeter at his own party.

His message, repeated more than once during the day, was that there is a kinder, gentler Arnold Schwarzenegger. "The Last Action Hero" is rated PG-13, not R (like most of his action films have been), and there are reasons for that:


"It works on two levels. One, the public demands it. Two, I'm a family man myself now, and I'm always concerned about what kind of movies I can go and see with my daughters. Right now they're so young they basically only watch cartoons. But let's assume they're 5, 6, 8 years old. What will they want to see? That makes me think about films where the entire family can go out and see a movie and have a great time and not be offended by too much violence and all these other things."

I heard, I said, that "The Last Action Hero" sort of changed courses in mid-stream, starting out R and then turning into PG-13, and that scenes were reshot to get the broader family rating.

"That is absolutely incorrect. We never rewrote the script and we never reshot because of the rating. We always intended to shoot the movie for a PG audience; it was always from the beginning a fantasy movie of epic proportions, a spoof on action heroes, with a lot of comedy.

"As in all movies that I've done, especially the last six, we did go out and shoot additional stuff. When you have a sneak preview you hear the audience loud and clear about what it doesn't like. Our movie was a big hit with the test screenings, but there was one thing that was very clear: The audience did not like to see my vulnerability, They wanted me to kick in gear and get the action going. So what we did was go back to the original pages where that was exactly what was written. We'd felt to begin with that maybe there was too much action in the movie, and we should show more vulnerability, but we were wrong, so we went back to the original story."

For Schwarzenegger, reshooting some of the scenes was a business decision as well as an acting choice, because on "Last Action Hero" he was working as a producer as well as the star. Often when movie stars take production credits, it means either that their egos have started to enlarge, or that they're pursuing a pet project in the face of the odds. Not so with Schwarzenegger the businessman. Few stars have had a cannier sense of their own image, of what will work and what will not, and for Arnold to take a producer's credit is only a logical extension of the way he's been micro-managing his career all along.


Looking and sounding the way he does, Schwarzenegger could obviously inspire bad laughs if he were cast in certain kinds of straight dramatic roles. But with his perfect sense of appropriate material, he alternates action pictures with comedies that use his strengths and get laughs from his weaknesses, and he seems to have a built-in barometer to sense box office trends. Take the shift toward family films, for example:

"I think it is important to know that the 1990s are going to be very different from the 1980s. In the 80s we made much more hard core movies. 'Terminator,' for instance, was a true representation of the 80s--the kind of movie the people wanted to see. I think the 90s are different. Now they want to see a kinder and gentler type of an action hero. They want to see an action hero who is more multi-dimensional, who shows a kind of love and affection. But at the same time he's got to be tough and try to wipe out evil and do all the big stunts and all these other kinds of things. I think that in 'Last Action Hero' we redefine the action hero of the 80's. It's much more like 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' or 'Romancing the Stone' rather than the hard core violence."

The way the summer is shaping up, "The Last Action Hero" will be fighting it out with Steven Spielberg's "Jurassic Park" for the box office crown. And perhaps Schwarzenegger was wise to go easier on the violence. Although "Jurassic Park" is also rated PG-13, parents at preview screenings were surprised at the intensity of the violence, and walked out agreeing the movie was too scary for younger kids. If "The Last Action Hero" is indeed kinder and gentler, Arnold may have guessed right again.

* * *

When Arnold Schwarzenegger goes to work in the morning, his day often consists of participating in stunts and special effects scenes in which he and his co-stars are shot at, maimed, blown up, catapulted great distances through the air, or put inside speeding and exploding cars that are as likely to drive through bridge railings as anywhere else.

It's in a day's work for the movie's top action hero. But in the aftermath of the accidental shooting death of action hero Brandon Lee, I asked him how he felt about the risks he takes during a production.


"Whenever you do movies that have a lot of stunts," he told me, "or movies with a lot of action and magic and fantasy, you always run the risk that something will go wrong. That's why it is extremely important to always involve people that are first-class people; that are quality people.

"I'd rather pay more for a quality stunt coordinator; pay more for someone that watches out for the guns, for the explosives, for special effects specialists and so on. I want the top of the top of the line rather than someone who is maybe non-union or someone who's never done the work before."

Are you suggesting that the stunt coordinators on the Brandon Lee film fit that description?

"I have no idea what happened on the Brandon Lee film. I am not familiar with the circumstances. I can only speak for myself. What I know is, if you try to cut corners with these experts, you may get a man who is cheaper--but he's also the one who gets killed. So it is very important to be tough on those issues.

"I want to see the stunts ahead of time; I want to see that the wires and the cables and the cranes and all those things work; that the explosives work, that everything is safe. I want to see with my own eyes. And then I will get involved with it; but otherwise I stay away from it.

"It's a tragic situation, to have an actor killed while he's making a movie. It's terrible and I think there are a lot of people at fault, because there are a lot of people who are backing away, and saying someone else was responsible. Everyone is responsible."

Next Article: A warm and fuzzy Arnold for the '90sPrevious Article: 'Unforgiven' ropes honors for Eastwood

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