STRONGMAN (Zachary Levy, 2009)
The documentary STRONGMAN follows New Jersey's Stanley Pleskun, who performs under the name of Stanless Steel. This scrap metal salvager bills himself as one of the world's strongest men when it comes to bending steel. Stanless is reportedly the only person who can bend a penny with his bare hands. While he has the ability to change the shape of metal, it seems that he lacks the power to alter his life into what he wishes it would be.
Although the rigorous cinema verité style may agitate viewers accustomed to slick documentaries, STRONGMAN'S unvarnished approach complements its salt of the earth subject. The narrative repetition reinforces his constant struggle to achieve greater success. What can be more frustrating than to believe you have a special skill yet don't receive the equivalent acknowledgment for it, whether in the form of accolades or monetary compensation? Stanless doesn't make a living solely as a strongman, but clearly he desires for his uncommon abilities to propel him above his current living conditions.
To call STRONGMAN a real life version of THE WRESTLER is an easy comparison but one with merit. Just as Mickey Rourke's washed up pro wrestler could have been a laughable caricature, the person that Stanless shows himself to be and that director Zachary Levy presents is a flawed but basically decent guy who aches deep down because he can't make his dream come true. Leg lifting a truck in a parking lot or bending a horseshoe at a kid's birthday party isn't where Stanless thinks he should be, yet he pushes forward to to get every scrap he can.
Levy could have played such moments for cheap laughs at the strongman's expense, but the director displays a great deal of empathy for his subject. At the same time, Levy shows that Stanless' pride and stubbornness can hold him back too. He insists on the purity of his stunts, but from a practical standpoint, much of what he does simply won't translate from a stage to the rear of the auditorium or even on television. In that sense he's like an artist who won't budge at all on any creative decisions lest it compromise the integrity of the work.
STRONGMAN provides an intimate perspective of coming up short in pursuit of a goal but plowing ahead anyway in the hope that one day the destination. Whether it's a Sisyphean task depends on if you're the one pushing the stone or watching someone do it.
(STRONGMAN is playing at the Arena Grand from March 5th through the 7th during the Arnold Sports Festival.)