Filmmaker Dave Carroll‘s directorial debut ‘Bending Steel’ is a welcomed foray into the unknown arena of old-time strongman performance. The documentary follows Chris “Wonder” Schoeck a reclusive personal trainer who bends steel in his basement storage unit attempting to become a professional strongman. It chronicles his struggle with stage performance and breaking the limits of one’s mind. Along the way it pays homage to the past greats and current guys who are continuing the strongman artform. Chris and his ‘internet found mentor & trainer’ Chris Rider meet the living legends of the sport, and gear up for Chris’ debut performance & entre’ into the world at Coney Island.
The film plays like an artichoke, not quite attractive on the outside, but once you begin to peel back the layers, and get into the middle of it you find an abundant amount of heart. What drives the movie is Chris’ ability to be open about the experience; he talks inhibitions, insecurities and his fear of failure. All of this is done as he touches on what exactly the act of bending steel does for his psyche. Chris’ personality and his blind ambition drive him to want to attain this deficient feeling of happiness and is relatable on so many levels.
The look of the documentary is cinematic in nature and if you find yourself in the middle of the film and are not quite aware of what was happening, you might assume it was just a movie with actors. That would be until the feats of strength were performed, some by Chris “Hairculese” Rider who pulls a full size pickup with a load of men on the back all of this with his hair alone. Other strong man feats are done by legends including Dennis “Strongest Man In The World” Rogers who holds two moving motorcycles in place, with his bare arms and Slim “The Hammer Man” Farman who has mastered the art of the hammer lever, balancing 75 lb. axes within inches of impaling your face. Other unbelievable feats include: bending a quarter with your teeth, ripping phone books in half, etc. All of these moments are heightened and treated with reverence when the music by composer Fernando Martinez matches the moment.
Inspiration is injected into this film and you find a burning feeling of the film concludes at Coney Island where our protagonist Chris performs a special feat not even he was aware he could do. The moment and buildup to the feat rises and is captured in such away that it trumps written films that attempt the manufacturing of the tugging at your heart. This film just does it, and leaves you feeling that the only limit is the mind. If you can break that, then you can do anything, I felt triumphant coming out of the theater, Bending Steel is a revelation as well as a truly great piece of cinema.