V-112DVD: Mike Mentzer
Issued by Gallasch Muscle Video Productions
Originally silent, now with instrumental soundtrack
DVD includes photo gallery: Length: 60 minutes
This DVD, shot on Super 8 film in 1977, offers nearly an hour of one of the finest pro bodybuilders who ever lived. Fresh from winning the IFBB Mr. America contest in 1976, Mike Mentzer (1951-2001) was 25 when Wayne Gallasch filmed him at two scenic California spots: the Marina del Rey beach and nearby oil field, and the apex of a mountain outside Malibu known as "Muscle Rocks." Mike told Wayne about Muscle Rocks, which had only been used by Arnold Schwarzenegger as a posing spot, and asked to be photographed there -- a fortunate request, considering the result. Any fan of golden-age bodybuilding must see this film. It's a classic.
Mike's build is unique. His genetics, supplementation and workout regime -- using Nautilus machines (new to the '70s) and "high intensity training" with free weights -- bulk him up in the arms, shoulders and upper back. Unlike other BBs, Mike spent as much time on his forearms as his upper arms; even Popeye didn't have forearms this big. While all developed body parts get generous attention, the film's achievement is showing Mike's arms at great length, from every conceivable angle. At some points the camera vanishes; it's as if we're watching him from behind a one-way mirror. Mike clearly wants to please his fans, holding nothing back. And he's in competition shape, his rice-paper skin creating a great ripped look.
The first 25 minutes is "On the Rocks" at the Marina del Rey beach. The hazy sky and eddying tide offer an ideal background for Mike's posing. A nearby outcrop of rocks serves for pushups. Props include an accordion stretcher cable, two 35-lb. dumbbells, a grip exerciser, and a spring coil that can be bent into a U-shape with the hands. Mike staggers the exercises with posing, showing himself off from the front, back, side, top, bottom -- you name it. He uses every pose: a double bicep shot, single bicep, side chest, lat spread, vacuum shot (arms behind the head with abs sucked in), a kneeling lunge with arm angled up, and so on. The camera stays on him, varying mainly in how close it gets -- from a head-to-toe shot to intense close-ups of a body part. In this film, Mike is the sum of his body parts.
Mike moves from one pose to another with little apparent effort. In truth, it's hard to pose this well at such length. Some BBs never learn to do compulsories right, but Mike has them down and then some. He enhances the poses with hand gestures that render the effect more aesthetic. Occasionally he looks at the camera, but smiles just once in the film. Sometimes he grimaces and bites on his moustache at the effort. This is serious work that he's giving his all.
Midway through the beach sequence, a woman appears and oils Mike's back as he stands like a horse being rubbed down, raising one arm and then the other to let her reach around his torso. Then she's gone and he's holding a bottle of lotion, oiling his chest. Near point-blank close-ups follow of him rubbing his upper arm, flexing it inside and out. Now for the quads, which the shadow of his torso falls across as he rubs and contorts them. Lower legs next, with calf raises showing the ball of muscle in each calf.
Pushups on the rocks follow, and the woman briefly reappears riding Mike's back. A towel under his hands makes the rocks easier to touch. Then it's back to the beach for accordion cable curls (with one side of the cable held down by a foot). Now he's standing in the surf doing compulsories, looking up after each one as if to register our take on it. Next a grip exerciser helps pump up the forearms, shown at length from every possible angle -- close enough to see the skin pores. Then extended shots of his shoulders from the back. Eventually we drift into a timeless world occupied by an incredible body on continuous display.
At 25 minutes in, the background shifts for seven minutes to an oil field (actually just 200 yards from the beach). Mike's in front of the oil rig, working the accordion cable while the rig pumps behind him. He becomes an extension of the rig itself -- repetitive gym sets writ large. Now he free poses, twisting his torso to give us different angles of view. Although these poses are drawn from a routine, their length and the location where they're done move them well beyond a stage presentation. More than in any other bodybuilding film in existence, we're witnessing Wayne's invention of a new genre of independent film art.
The final sequence at Muscle Rocks lasts 23 minutes. Mike's vascularity is at its best, with excellent skin tone. He's unshaved under his arms. Close-ups of his arms start off the sequence, the lotion bottle held in one hand as the other arm is flexed. Then he's leaning forward for concentration curls.
As his arms pump up, Mike looks at them as if even he can't quite believe them. His wrists shift back and forth to show off the forearms. He looks a bit winded now; such relentless effort is exhausting.
Now we get the triceps from the back, the lats and traps curving up to a startling size. Next one-arm dumbbell extensions, the arm behind the head lowering the weight and pushing it back up. One arm, the other arm, both at the same time. Mike shifts to the spring coil for his biceps. Then on to laterals, the dumbbells arcing up together on both sides. Then on to presses, the dumbbells hefted from shoulder level as high as they'll go. Flexing follows the exercise to show off the pump. Then on to accordion cable curls, with close-ups of the upper arm, inside and out. Then on to calf raises, his body propped up by the spring coil (used like a walking stick). Then on to quad work -- with the muscle shaken by hand to better display it.
Near the end the camera pulls back, showing Mike on what might as well be Mount Olympus. From this summit, all the world's a stage for him. There's a mythic feel to my favorite shot in the film: starting on his legs, the camera slowly climbs up his body as he hits one classic pose after another, all framed against a blank sky. For a Mentzer fan, this film is a mind-blowing experience.
Mike finishes up with a confident crossed-arm pose. He knows what he's got. Somewhere in the universe, Mike still knows what he's got. May God rest his soul.
Mike Emery, 2004