Bodybuilding's next gen gets its day in new doc
It's a metaphor that resonates strongly in the world of competitive bodybuilding. For Russian-born filmmaker Vlad Yudin, that in itself was one of the main reasons he sought to direct and produce the much-talked about docudrama, “Generation Iron.” Serving as a remake of the 1977 docufilm, “Pumping Iron,” that introduced Arnold Schwarzenegger to world, the film gives audiences a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the lives of seven top bodybuilders as they train for the ultimate title — Mr. Olympia. Interestingly enough, although the past 30 years have done a lot to strip the world of bodybuilding of some of its earlier taboos, others have remained firmly intact. For Yudin, the opportunity to dispel the rumors and show the multidimensional lives of this new generation of bodybuilders, who have endured years of being pegged as nothing more than “meatheads,” was paramount.
Although the film won't be released nationwide until the fall of 2013, anticipation is already high; the trailer for “Generation Iron” has received more than a half-million hits to date. Even more telling are the pages of commentary left by the sport's most loyal fans. Sometimes entertaining, but always passionate – it just goes to show how strong the fan base remains in the world of professional bodybuilding.
Question: More than 35 years ago, we were introduced to Mr. Olympia competitors via the docufilm, “Pumping Iron.” What made you want to revisit the subject?
Answer: Well, of course, I'm a big fan of “Pumping Iron.” It's definitely a great film. And that's how the inception of the “Generation Iron” film happened. I think that bodybuilding back then was a very taboo sport, it was very unexplored, and it was misunderstood by so many. So 30 years went by and “Pumping Iron” started a big fitness craze and changed the landscape of how people see self-image. But, at the same time, professional bodybuilding remains an unexplored subject and still taboo.
Q: What kind of taboos remain?
A: Everyone's talking about the unhealthy side effects. They think it's some kind of obsession, that it's not healthy. That people are basically meatheads. Everyone's talking about the different substances, the same thing over and over and over. But no one really points anything out besides that.
Q: Bodybuilders have described bodybuilding as “perfecting their physique” and as an “art form,” but is it easy for it to turn into an unhealthy obsession?
A: That's the question I was trying to find out for myself. When you're doing professional sports, I don't think it's ever 100-percent healthy. When a professional car racer races Formula One cars, there's always a chance for disaster. But it's like that with any sport. And, of course, professional bodybuilding is way different than regular fitness — it's like professional sports. ... It's definitely not something a regular person should do.
Q: What drives them? Is it the competitive element or something more?
A: Bodybuilding is full dedication — it's a full lifestyle. It's not even like playing sports. Every day and every hour is crucial. It's definitely competitive. Once you fall in love with a sport and feel like you can achieve something in it, it almost becomes a drive that you can't stop. A lot of athletes have that, but in bodybuilding, it's way deeper. It's almost like a purpose of life to succeed and get the body to the point where it's competing for the top position.
Q: Was there one thing in particular that surprised you about this group of athletes?
A: A lot of times, society kind of portrays them as very one-dimensional human beings — which is basically the exterior drives people's perspectives and, of course, it's not true. They are very complex individuals and they have drives and lives and families. They are true artists. Bodybuilding is sports; it's science and art and how it all meets together. So, they are very complex people with a lot of interesting layers to them.
Q: How does this generation of bodybuilders compare to the class that included Arnold Schwarzenegger back in the 1970s?
A: Well, it's interesting, because when I first started making this film I was told by a lot of people who were fans of “Pumping Iron” and old-school generations that the new guys don't have personality and charisma like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno. So I said, “Well, let me find out for myself.” And I found out it's not true — you just have to find out. And that's what this film does — focuses on their personalities and their lives. And their motivation and drive behind the sport.
Q: The trailer for “Generation Iron” already has more than 500,000 hits on YouTube. Were you surprised at that level of excitement?
A: No. There's a lot of bodybuilding fans. People are hard-core followers of the sport and the culture, but the thing is, it's still kind of taboo. What's important to us is that people unfamiliar with the sport get to know more about it. My goal is to cross it over and bring it to a general audience.
Q: After following these guys around, any aspirations to throw your hat into the Mr. Olympia ring?
A: (Laughing) Even if I had the biggest desire to do that, I don't think I would ever be able to achieve that. I think that I'd rather stay away from that.