“Daunting” is a word I’d choose for any director wanting to take on the task of creating a documentary about bodybuilding.
Beyond the cliches and caricatures often used to thinly portray the world of muscle and weights, it’s a fundamentally shallow topic.
Bodybuilders themselves rarely make for interesting foils representative of their sport. Added to that, bodybuilding at its essence, is mired in the mundane repetitiveness of sets, reps, and systematic consistency. Keeping life’s variables as static and unchanging as possible makes for good progress in the gym, but isn’t exactly a recipe for compelling viewing.
A documentary about bodybuilding featuring yet another guy meal prepping, training, sleeping, pinning and talking about bodybuilding is a cliched and worn a concept as any of the other hundreds of DVD clones already out there.
The challenge lies in how to make the routine world of the bodybuilder interesting without it becoming too contrived or sensationalist.
It often takes the eye of an outsider to recognise that which is unrecognisable to someone familiar within the bodybuilding world. Louis Theroux did it well. So did “Pumping Iron’s” Butler and Gaines. Chris Bell succeeded with “Bigger, Faster, Stronger”. Vlad Yudin failed miserably with “Generation Iron”
Many would argue that it’s the personalities that attract the fans and not the physiques. And, they’d probably be right.
Titles and accolades are no longer dependable marketing currency in the new muscle economy and good physiques are are a ubiquitous commodity. In this day and age, X-Factor level charisma will always financially win out over an X-Framed physique.
Today’s most popular fitness celebrities resonate with people because they’re “interesting”, charismatic, or have a story to tell.
Looking back on the first installment of “Under Construction” two years ago, Dave was trailblazing some of the more extreme elements of associated with bodybuilding gonzo journalism long before the current crop of would-be Youtube copycats.
Before Rich Piana’s recent “Bigger By the Day” provided a window into the reality TV series/car-wreck of Piana’s own bizarre life, Dave was trailblazing some of the more extreme elements of bodybuilding, documenting his journey from 300 to 365lbs in a short time frame.
Long before Bostin Loyd shocked the internet fitness-world with his on-camera gear-pinning antics, Dave was one of the first to openly demonstrate steroid injections on film.
Yet, Dave Crossland is no bodybuilder and never will be. Dave is a mass monster chasing the prize of size at all costs. It’s a goal that doesn’t come cheaply and this second part of “Under Construction” profiles Dave’s seemingly insane push to achieve an inhuman scale weight of 400lbs.
To put things in perspective, an average male gorilla, bear or lion weighs between 400-500lbs.
Equated in human terms, let’s look at some of those associated with bodybuilding who have achieved such an inflated mass goal;
400lb Kovacs was so big, stories abound that he needed to wipe his ass with hotel bath towels because he couldn’t reach. Having failed both his flexibility and living goals, Kovacs now spends his days and evenings bench pressing 6 foot of dirt off his chest in the dark.
Trevor Smith – another Brit who lived for a short while to see the prized number of 400 – these days he lists “pushing up daisies” as his singular occupation and hobby eternal.
Even Anthony Clarke and Manfred Hoeberl – two of the biggest dudes on the planet back in the 90’s who I thought to be members of the 400lb club, weren’t even in the vicinity. Clarke died a very young man. Hoeberl…I’m not sure…
Current pro “Big” Ramy is about the closest living colossus who appears even remotely aesthetically close to that figure. Clearly, it’s a kamikaze mission few have ever achieved, let alone lived long enough to enjoy.
The big question is “Why?”
Dave isn’t chasing fame, riches, notoriety, stage-glory, or even “internet likes” – he’s a truth seeker – but by virtue of his drug abuse (let’s call it what it is) training addiction, and overconsumption of food, he’s become a self-created composite of Greek tragedy.
Dave’s journey reflects many elements of the mythic stories – part Icarus flying too close to the sun chasing a dream. Part Sisyphus, eternally damned to toil, pushing his boulder uphill. Part Prometheus bringing “truth” to humans only to have his liver destroyed everyday and of course, there’s no denying, part Hercules also.
His appeal often derives from the fact that his average genetics place him in the same league of the everyman. He stands out in a crowd through sheer size yet resonates with many by virtue of his unassuming and humble persona. He’s the proverbial gentle giant…on steroids.
He trains hard and has earned some physique altering battle scars that have come from over-revving the body’s capacity for punishment over the years. The steroids have definitely taken their toll internally. Greatness comes at a price and there’s no such thing as a biological free lunch.
How Does Under Construction 2 Measure Up?
It’s pleasing to see that In Under Construction 2, Dave removes a lot of the focus from himself to explore the darker recesses of the subculture as a way of exposing not only the world of bodybuilding, but also give context to his own journey within that world.
Apart from Dave’s own story – several mini-investigative pieces run parallel to the main narrative. For example:
Dave visits a strongman lifter with a terminal illness who still pursues his strength goals despite his failing body. The strongman reminds Dave that goals can be realised when the mind is determined to overcome the limitations imposed by the body.
He talks in depth with a psychologist regarding the modern day mental illness of body dysmorphia. This is a very interesting section as the psych actually probes Dave with some very provocative and reflective questions into the nature of what drives him, and what happens if he ever has to cease training becomes a future possibility.
He interviews a manufacturer and distributor of underground steroids, discussing the logistics, demand, and profits associated with the business of PED’s.
He flies to Denmark and Scandinavia – former lands of the once feared and famed warriors, The Vikings. He shows how modern day laws crush the aspirations of would be gym-goers and steroid users via the most draconian and arbitrary legislation. For example, you can’t sell a shake with creatine in it and BCAA’s are illegal.
Random drug tests can be imposed on members of gyms possessing a “smiley faced logo” – failure to comply or failure of said drug test results in banishment from the club to one of the much further located “sad-face” gyms who refuse to participate in such testing. If this section of the documentary doesn’t make you want to get off your couch and punch a feminist in the face, then you are already hypogonadal.
And of course there’s further insight into Dave’s own drug use – a stack that makes Piana’s recent cycle look like an entry level hobby kit in comparison running him a total of over 4 grams a week. (1.750g Test E, 1000g Deca —switch to Tren, 800g Masteron, 15iu GH, 55IU Insulin training days)
Without giving too much away, Dave also confronts a tremendous amount of tragedy and personal hardship on this journey and to his credit, this documentary spares nothing in terms of how depressingly revealing it is. Again the psychologists words ring out and I can only imagine that Dave had to be asking – “Why” and “Is it worth it?”
What’s even more pleasing is that none of the investigative segues are done in an overly controversial, or alarmist manner to “sell the film” to the mainstream. Rather, they’re presented in a very measured and non-biased way. The director, James Grealish, could have added a lot of media “bait” to appeal to the sound-byte hungry tabloid press, but chose to honour and respect the often publicly maligned topic of bodybuilding.
“Under Construction 2” stands in stark contrast to the vast number of existing social media productions providing mostly vacuous insights into bodybuilding. Dave’s documentary is filled with purpose and pathos. It’s a deeper dive into the rabbit hole of one man’s psychology and struggle behind the motivation to train and risk everything on the very dangerous pitch of the dice.
The cinematography is superb and the production values have that same gritty, raw feel of a Vice Documentary – the brand made popular for its similarly themed exploration of the sublime underbelly of various subcultures.
Overall, I thought this was a much better film than the first and a superb watch that has definite replay value. It stands up there as one of the best bodybuilding related documentaries that has come out in the last few years. It’s a probing and unflinchingly raw look into the sublime and surreal world of bodybuilding and a realistic portrayal of the personal abuse and sacrifice entailed in chasing extreme dreams.
You can buy the film here
(Note: I have no affiliation with the film nor receive any profits from its sale. And yep, I paid my $20 bucks to see it, just like everyone else)