Film is so often categorized as a collaborative medium. Beyond the cohesion of the crew, the creative energy and understanding between a director and his or her performers can elevate the blueprint material to new heights. That’s all well and acknowledged in the world of narrative filmmaking, but what of the documentary? In a form ruled by the role of the voyeur, it seems that documentary subjects seldom receive their due share of plaudits. And so, Cinema Eye, the organization behind the annual nonfiction awards ceremony Cinema Eye Honors, has compiled its inaugural list of “The Unforgettables,” a new category that will pay tribute to this year’s notable faces of documentary film. The focus of 15 distinct films, these 17 people (and one bull orca) were selected by votes from more than 80 of this year’s eligible filmmakers as well as Cinema Eye’s nominations committee, which is comprised of 25 of the world’s top documentary film programmers and curators[…]
Although there is plenty of flexing and grunting, Bending Steel is a surprisingly soft and intimate story about a 43-year-old New York man who decides to become a sideshow strongman at Coney Island. Certainly there are scenes when the strongmen straighten out horseshoes and, veins bulging, smash nails into pieces of wood (without the use of a hammer). But mostly it is a documentary about a small topic that slyly plays out on massive themes — which is to say that this is an unexpectedly beautiful and touching film about growing up, a movie remarkably wide-reaching in spite of the acutely specific topic and the painfully introverted main character, Chris Schoeck.
On the surface, Schoeck is truly unremarkable. He isn't some bulking and hulking muscle man and, really, is more about determination than superhuman strength. But that is what makes his story so accessible. He is a painfully lonely man, with an odd obsession—to bend a two-inch bar of steel in front of an audience.[...]
The best thing about going to a film festival, chances are you get access to films that have very little or no buzz around them at all. After all, that’s why they are at the festival. I try to go into most screenings of any kind untainted as much as possible by hype or reviews so I can have free access to my own feelings about what I have seen. So when I was picking out the lineup of films I was gong to see at the Indianapolis Film Festival, Bending Steel fit the time I was going to be there and it had an exceedingly interesting premise – a 43-year old man named Chris Schoeck overcome with the passion for bending metal decides with the help of his mentor Chris “Haircules” Rider and other heavyweights in the community, to bring back the Oldetime Strongman who was once a ubiquitous part of the attractions at the turn of the century at places like Coney Island. How could I not give this one a chance?[...]
A strongman in Coney Island is never not a phenomenon. On a recent, blistering afternoon, Chris "Wonder" Schoeck struck a timeless pose on the boardwalk, bare chest beading with sweat as he crouched to bend a steel bar around his leg. A large vein on his forehead throbbed as he squinted and huffed. Admirers gathered to watch, including a crew of teenage photography students who clustered like paparazzi.
Bang. Done. Mr. Schoeck, whose trim, 150-pound physique belongs to a man much younger than his 45 years[...]
And so another film festival comes to a close. This year's Tribeca wasn't the most spectacular fest of all time, but it had a solid lineup and we saw some good movies. As per usual, Hubert rocked things hardcore, and Alec picked up the scraps. There was quite a bit of variety, and as per usual, we didn't see eye-to-eye with all of our colleagues. But that leads to interesting discussions about the role of critics and criticism, and if those discussions are civil, it can only be a good thing.
As far as the actual criticism goes, we tried a few new things. For a number of films, we wrote some shorter, pseudo-capsule reviews as well as one review of two films. Although we're proud of what we wrote, we don't know how they worked out, but if anyone has any thoughts, we'd love to hear them. This is for all of you as much as it is for us.[...]
Chris Schoeck likes to introduce his act by saying, “I’m interested in things that were done between 1890 and 1910 on Coney Island,” a contradiction in modern times that’s proves to be only one of many for the diminutive strongman in Dave Carroll’s portrait “Bending Steel.” Given to grand statements such as “I get out of this steel what most people get out of personal relationships,” he’s got a long way to go if he wants to be a successful entertainer, as that specific statement would suggest, even without facing the considerable odds of making it as a performer of a bygone artform.
Schoeck isn’t a natural in front of an audience, which proves to be a double-edged sword in Carroll’s feature debut. At once, we’re the ones who have to spend time with Schoeck as he pursues his dream of bending a 2″ inch steel bar around his inner thigh in time for a showcase at Coney Island, hyping himself up with platitudes and appearing to be the greatest appreciator of his own company, [...]
Dave Carrol’s ‘Bending Steel’ exists in the same inspirational cinematic sandbox as Rocky and Rudy. Sure, strongman feats like horseshoe twisting and telephone book tearing might fall into the fringe category of what we traditionally define as ‘sport’, but strongmen are most definitely athletes. Their success depends upon their physical prowess, a strong mental constitution, and a natural ability to entertain a crowd.
Chris Shoeck has what it takes to be a professional strongman but he still struggles to prove himself to his peers and his parents, who are seemingly indifferent to his unusual ability.[…]
As I walked into the after-party at Red Door NYC in Chelsea, I slipped behind a red curtain and shuffled my way past an old Prohibition-style bar, through a thick crowd, to the vaudeville stage. There stood a hefty man with a long braid of red hair, whose booming hands were clasped around a hammer. Slowly the hammer bent and contorted. I looked to my right and assumed the smaller man I saw waiting in the wings was an assistant. Little did I know this man was Chris “Wonder” Schoeck, and he was waiting for his mentor, Chris Rider, to finish with the hammer so he could finally take his hands to some steel.[…]
I don’t care much about feats of physical strength, but by the end of Bending Steel I cared quite a bit about strongman Chris “Wonder” Schoeck. He’s a fascinating, oddly touching figure–a stoic loner who long ago replaced human relationships with a bizarre, all-consuming pastime: mangling hunks of steel with his bare hands. Schoeck works as a personal trainer, but when the film begins he’s desperate to join a crew of professional strongmen debuting a new act on Coney Island. Feats of strength aren’t enough to join their ranks, though–he needs to be a performer, too, which means learning to connect with his fellow human beings, even if only briefly. The movie isn’t just about a man fumbling towards engagement with the world, it’s a lovely demonstration of how actions gain meaning by being witnessed and shared. In the early scenes, when Schoeck practices secretly in his basement, his hobby seems kind of stupid; by the end, when he’s doing it for his supportive teammates and for the eager crowd, there’s something strangely beautiful about it. His big finale–an attempt to bend a bar he’s never been able to bend before–makes for one of the most perfect, moving documentary endings you’ll ever see.
“When I’m bending the steel, I feel like I’ve entered a different world.”
-Chris “Wonder” Schoeck
One of the indie films that screened at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival was as documentary called BENDING STEEL. It follows one man’s journey to become a professional old-time strongman.