Strongman Documentary Review Essays

By Kalle Beck 

The Born Strong Documentary focuses on four Strongmen as they get ready and compete in the 2016 Arnold Strongman Classic.

The four Strongmen covered are Eddie Hall of England, Brian Shaw of The United States, Hafthor Bjornsson of Iceland, and Zydrunas Savickas of Lithuania; with interviews and insight from Mark Henry, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Terry Todd as well as several others interjected throughout.

The majority of the first part of the film focuses on Eddie Hall, and if you are a fan of the documentary Eddie Strongman, you will enjoy this. The passion and drive Hall shows for his quest to be the strongest man in the world, along with the risks he is willing to take, are riveting and undeniable. They then go on to discuss how fast Hall has packed on weight, the necessity of having some fat to be the strongest man in the world, as well as the how to minimize the health risks associated with being 400+ pounds.

Next, Born Strong goes to Iceland to put the spotlight on Hafthor Bjornsson. They chronicle about how Strongman is born into the culture of Iceland, and how so many great Strongmen come from such a small island. Additionally, Jon Pall Sigmarsson is discussed during interviews with  Stefan Solvi Petursson.

The segment focuses on Hafthor’s taste for fancy suits and expensive clothes,  as well as  some insight into his auditioning process for Game Of Thrones, and filming the famous scene of “The Mountain vs The Viper”.

Brian Shaw is the next athlete covered, focusing on his upbringing in a small town in Colorado, how big he is, his commendable work ethic in the sport.

Zydrunas Savickas discusses what life was like growing up in Lithuania while still under Soviet control, his desire for freedom for his country, and compared it to being raised in a prison. They expand on Savickas’s life outside of Strongman, including his political career.  Zydrunas explains the difficulty of and uniqueness of competing in Strongman for 20 years.

The film then travels to Columbus, Ohio for the Arnold Classic with Mark Henry covering the magnitude and prestige of the event. Focusing first on the deadlift with Brian Shaw going over 1,000lbs, then Eddie Hall getting the world record in the deadlift with 1,026lbs.  Moving through the rest of the events including the Austrian Oak, Cyr Dumbbell, Bale Tote, and Timber Carry.

I don’t want to spoil the film for you as the conclusion is quite riveting, but I will give my wrap up here.

If you are reading this there is a good chance you are a Strongman fanatic, and will really enjoy this film and it is a must watch. Beyond that,  it is simply a great documentary regardless of subject matter. Be Strong does a great job of giving back stories on the four athletes featured, and giving a glimpse into what Strongman is like at the highest level culminating in a great coverage of the Arnold Classic 2016. I almost wish I wasn’t there stage-side watching this, because even knowing the outcome I was on the edge of my seat. You could easily watch this documentary with your family and friends that have no to limited knowledge of the sport, and it would be enjoyable.
Enough of me talking, go out and rent or buy Be Strong and tell your friends about it. Films like this are how our sport continues to grow.

Thanks to Gary Cohen the director and everyone involved on putting a spotlight on my favorite sport.


Favorite Quotes


Hafthor “If eating shit would make me stronger I’d probably eat shit”


Eddie Calling Brian “How are you doing you fat piece of shit”


Z  “it’s one of the ways to get stronger, get more muscles”


Arnold to Hall “everytime I see you, you break a world record! How do you do it?”



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"Strongman" is a tantalizing example of the kind of documentary I find engrossing: A film about an unusual person that invites us into the mystery of a human life. Stanley Pleskun bills himself as "Stanless Steel, the Strongest Man Alive." Whether this is true is beside the point. Stanless, as I will call him, believes it absolutely. His girlfriend Barbara and his brother Michael agree, I gather, although they never actually say so.

How does the Strongest Man in the World support himself? He works as a freelancer in the scrap metal industry, collecting scrap and hauling it to a yard. We see him heaving heavy loads into the bed of his truck. Does this help him train? No, I learn from the film's notes, it tires him out and makes it harder to train. Although Zackary Levy, the filmmaker, followed him over a course of years and shot hundreds of hours of films, we only see him actually training twice: Once squeezing a hand grip, and again staggering for several yards while carrying heavy concrete blocks.


He is a strict vegetarian who does not smoke or drink, and lives on fruit and vegetable juices. We see him demolish a dozen ears of corn in a single brief sitting. We also see him, perhaps during times of stress, smoking, having a beer and sharing a pizza. Nobody's perfect. Stanless is convinced he doesn't smoke, and advises Barbara to cut it out. He also bums smokes from her.

Barbara is a great mystery to me. She is a good-looking woman about the same age as Stanless. Old photos show her with the facial structure of a model. Her skin remains unlined. She wears her hair in a graying ponytail or braids. She has a presence. She has a beauty. Stanless moves in with her. She rehearses to introduce his act: "Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls! Presenting Staaaaaanless Steeeel! The Strongest Man in the Woooorld!" He makes appearances at events in New Jersey and  New York, bending steel bars, lifting trucks, and so on. He is paid $1,000 and expenses to appear on a British TV show.

He meets with an agent who has "represented all the top strong men." The agent tells him his act lacks a "hook." Indeed, it seems quickly over. Before an audience of maybe 200 in a parking lot, he positions himself on his back below the rear end of a pickup truck and lifts it high enough with his feet for his brother to slip a sheet of paper under a rear wheel. He can also bend pennies and quarters. He puts a bent penny on a chain and gives it to Barbara as a necklace.

What is it with those two? They hug, they kiss, but their relationship seems to center on his Strongman status and her acceptance and support of it. Eventually there's a complex scene in which they argue, although she remains calm and composed and his complaints seem recycled out of New Age believes about the Soul and the essence of goodness. He also has moments of offended anger, when he reminds me uncannily of Bruno S., the star of Herzog's "Stroszek."

Stanless' family life is the stuff of Diane Arbus. Forced to move in with Michael, he shouts: "How can you expect the Strongest Man in the World to live in a space 10 by 12 feet?" Michael's living room is an indoor-outdoor carport. Their mother and grandmother live in an ordinary house, where the grandmother,  apparently a stroke victim, has to be carried about.

Zach Levy has the deadpan approach of a filmmaker like Errol Morris. You're not sure what he thinks about these people. They are very definitely themselves,  and we've never seen anyone else like them. Levy's camera simply regards them. The film ends with a flashback to a historic moment: The first meeting between Stanless and Barbara. It solves nothing. I watched the film with quiet fascination.


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