It’s a shame I had to trek downtown to Tribeca to experience Pumping Iron II: The Women, which played as part of the 92YTribeca’s “Outsider Sports” series (on a double bill with Afghan Muscles—kudos to the creative programmer!). Not that I have anything against attending a free screening of a 16mm print courtesy of the New York Public Library. It’s just that George Butler’s follow-up to his Schwarzenegger-starring Pumping Iron needs to be disseminated on DVD in a 25th-anniversary edition complete with all the bells and whistles. Yes, this semi-doc is a film geek’s dream, one that leaves you thinking about things beyond its bodybuilding theme and hungering to learn more.
Arriving in theaters fresh on the heels of Flashdance fever, the film’s nods to that cinematic time capsule are so transparent as to be laughable, ranging from its cheesy ’80s pop soundtrack, to the competitors’ Aqua Net heavy hairstyles and “Jane Fonda Workout” wear. But beneath the superficial knockoffs lie both filmmaking and a storyline rife with controversy. Pumping Iron II: The Women follows several muscle-bound females leading up to The Caesars World Cup in Las Vegas. Filling Schwarzenegger’s shoes is Rachel McLish, a femme fatale, bodybuilding diva every bit the showboat as the future Governator. Australian Bev Francis, a former power-lifter turned bodybuilder whose masculine looks call into question the female bodybuilding ideal, is the outsider Lou Ferrigno character. Country girl Lori Bowen and brainy Carla Dunlap, the only black woman represented, fill lesser roles.