Book tickets

Pumping Iron II: The Women, in partnership with Club des Femmes

Sun Jun 6, 16:15

Film, Rio Cinema, £12.5 / £8 con

Pumping Iron II: The Women 

Dir. George Butler, USA, 1985, 107mins, Cert PG

With an introduction by Sam McBean 

In a delicious and fascinating sequel to Pumping Iron (1977), the cult docudrama about male bodybuilding culture that introduced Arnie Schwarzenegger to American audiences, George Butler returns to the gyms in this riveting and campy look at 1980s female bodybuilding culture.

Programmed in 1985 by the Women’s Media Resource Project at the Rio to a raucous sold out women only audience, the film follows five top female bodybuilders, Rachel McLish, Bev Francis, Lori Bowen, Carla Dunlap and Lydia Cheng who sacrifice their lives and livelihoods in the pursuit of the ‘perfect’ female form in order to win. Although the film assiduously avoids the L-word, there remains a magnetic (coded) lezzy force field around Bev Francis, the beautiful butch Australian powerlifter who sets out to cause maximum gender trouble at the 1983 Caesars Palace World Cup competition in Las Vegas. 

Criticised at the time for its misrepresentation of the sport, Pumping Iron II: The Women was taken up by lesbian/ feminist film critics and audiences alike, hailed by Mandy Merck  ‘as one of the most radical, and engaging feminist films in years’ in her 1985 City Limits review. Spotlighting the heated debate at the heart of the film, Merck ponders possible answers to the question, ‘Can a woman body builder be too strong?’: ‘The answer? We are in the 1980s. Who are we to say what looks like a woman and what doesn’t.’ However dazzled by the high jinx and huge fun as you watch the women strut their muscles, we can’t ignore more serious questions, still pertinent today: which bodies matter? Which bodies tick enough standard boxes to be granted fair play? Bev Francis (spoiler alert!) might have not been deemed ‘feminine’ enough to win that competition at Cesars Palace but her real victory comes as we watch the film, and celebrate her in all her glory as a lesbian camp icon of bodybuilding royalty.

In partnership with Club des Femmes.

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