Tribeca Film Festival 2013
By Don Simpson | April 20, 2013
Director: Dave Carroll
Who would have known that a film about a severely introverted 43-year-old man who aspires to become a professional Oldetime Strongman could be so emotionally riveting? Okay, well, Dave Carroll must have known something because his documentary Bending Steel is exactly that. A sublimely intimate showcase of one man’s existential struggle, Bending Steel follows Chris Schoeck as he learns how to maintain full control of his mind. Schoeck puts all of his strength into bending seemingly unpliable objects. It is a classic example of mind over matter. If Schoeck can convince himself that he can bend something, then he will most likely be able to do it. Schoeck finds a worthy opponent in a 2″ diameter steel rod that seems to tease him with its pure, galvanized strength. His struggle to conquer this rod serves as the intense conflict that propels Schoeck’s character arc. If Schoeck can bend this rod, he believes that everything else will fall into place for him.
First and foremost, bending that rod of steel will give Schoeck the confidence that he needs to perform in front of people. Or maybe it works the other way around? You see — for all intents and purposes, Schoeck is a recluse, preferring a solitary existence in his New York City apartment. Becoming an Oldetime Strongman means performing in front of people, something Schoeck has never enjoyed. All the while, Schoeck battles an alcoholic past and shamefully unsupportive parents, so a little extra mental strength might actually go a long way for him.
Bending Steel closely follows Schoeck during his epic journey from quietly bending steel in his basement storage unit to his debut as an Oldetime Strongman on the Coney Island boardwalk. As someone who has always rejected the need for human interaction, becoming an Oldetime Strongman promises to give Schoeck a long-awaited opportunity to become someone important, to find meaning and purpose in his life, to carve out his place in this world. Along the way, Schoeck is forced to grapple with the menacing specters of his mental and physical insecurities, all in front of a seemingly ever-present video camera; thus forming Bending Steel into a fascinating documentation of a fortysomething man who is finally discovering himself and bending into a fully-formed person.
Despite being so timid and withdrawn from other human beings, Schoeck lays it all on the proverbial table by giving Carroll and cinematographer Ryan Scafuro an all access pass into the most private regions of his life. The unflinching camera relishes just as much in the mundanity of Schoeck’s everyday existence as it does in the carnivalesque atmosphere of the Oldetime Strongman world.
Being that Carroll’s documentary follows the age-old narrative trajectory of an against-all-odds sports movie, I would have never expected that Bending Steel could actually bring tears to my eyes; but Bending Steel burrowed its way into my emotional core with an unanticipated emotional intimacy.