Hot Docs 2013: ‘Bending Steel’ Review


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Release Date: April 26, 2013 (Hot Docs 2013)
MPAA Rating: NR
Film Pulse Score: 7.5/10

The thing about documentary films that makes them so special is learning about new and interesting things you wouldn’t normally think are interesting. In comes Bending Steel, which premiered at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival and is currently screening at Hot Docs 2013. The film takes a look at the practice of the oldetime strongman by following the life of amateur steel bender Chris Schoeck as he attempts to take his talents pro.

There seems to be a lot of documentaries popping up over the last few years that center on groups of people that have strange or interesting hobbies or professions. In order for these stories to be successful the key is to have interesting an endearing subjects and focus the film on them rather than solely on what they do. This is the case with Bending Steel and it’s what makes the film work. If it was simply a documentary about steel bending, it probably wouldn’t hold my interest for an hour and a half, however looks more deeply into the people that are attempting to resurrect this lost art which proves to be much more effective.

We see the progress Chris makes from the beginning of the film as an amateur, bending nails and horseshoes in his basement, to performing on stage at Coney Island’s famous sideshow. Not only does he strive to become a professional strongman, but one of his personal challenges is to bend a two-inch thick steel bar. We come back to this goal several times as the movie progresses so he film’s climax bears more weight so to speak when he makes his final attempt on stage.

Visually the documentary looks much like many recent docs, with crisp hi-def visuals, and plenty of handheld camerawork. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the visuals are never really the focal point of many documentaries. There’s also an animated segment that features some very well done Monty Python-esque cutout style animation.

Like many of the docs I’ve talked about in the past, the fact that Chris is an affable guy is what makes this such an enjoyable film. He’s not some giant meat-head with nothing to say, he’s a normal looking guy who comes off as articulate and a genuinely nice person. His story is also one of inspiration, though I still don’t quite comprehend why these fellows are so enamored with bending things.

Bending Steel is a light documentary about what some might call a dying art form. These men long for the good ol’ days of vaudeville and when Coney Island was more than a broken down shell of its former self. It’s entertaining and contain universal themes. Even if you’re not aspiring to rip a phone book in half, there’s still a lot to take away from this film. Though it’s principles are basic, that of perseverance and determination, it’s always nice to be inspired once in a while and what better way than to watch a man pull a truckload of dudes with his hair?