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A 18 San Diego Uptown News | Mar. 18–31, 2011


"Strongman" director, Zachary Levy.

‘Strongman’ steadfast and fierce with jeweler’s eye for veracity

“Strongman” is this year’s “Anvil,” a proletarian documentary about Stanley Pleskun (aka Stan La Steel), a lummox semi-renowned for lifting heavy objects and bend- ing coins with his fingers. Director Zachary Levy was a

freelance videographer on assign- ment for NBC when he first met his heftiness. There was Stan, stretched across the runway at Princeton Airport, each arm tied to a plane pointing in the opposite direction.

“At first glance, here was this gentle guy about to be torn apart by two airplanes,” Levy recalls. “Then we went back to film him at his house, and I began to see the full picture. The strength and the decay were in such sharp contrast that I knew instantly that I was go- ing to make this film.”

That was nine years ago, and Levy has been following the hulk with a camera ever since. The result is a

steadfast, at times fierce documentary that’s crafted with a jeweler’s eye for veracity. “Strong- man,” which is currently playing at Reading Cinemas Gaslamp 15, also kept me laughing, although maybe not always with it, throughout.

SCOTT MARKS: I’ve seen it twice, and I’m still not sure that I should be laughing at some of the stuff in this film. And I’m not sure that you don’t encourage me to at times laugh at these people.

ZACHARY LEVY: I think that is ultimately up to the viewer. I don’t tell people how to watch the film. One of the things that the film does that is really interesting is that there are no cues in it. In most films, the range of emotions that the audience gets is pretty tightly controlled. I think one of the most exciting things about “Strongman” is that it’s not.

SM: Can I give you one example of a scene that supports my argu- ment?

ZL: Sure.

SM: Stan goes to his hotel room in London, and it’s amusing to watch the unsophisticated hulk try and figure out how to use his card key to open the door. That’s fine. The next day when he arrives back at his room, the poor guy still hasn’t figured it out and no one in the crew offers to lend a hand. It’s

obvious that the guy isn’t a rocket scientist, but isn’t this just under- scoring how ignorant the man is?

ZL: There is a range of emotions at work there. Your response to it is valid. I have been at screenings where people laugh and others where they really empathize with the situation. He’s someone they’re laughing at, but someone who just had his clock cleaned by another strongman and that’s why he can’t open the door. That plays to the tragic side of the film.

SM: That also has a lot to do with the way you structure the film. It opens on a note of rejection, Stan is turned down for a gig, and for about the first 20 or 30 minutes, you try and position us in Stan’s corner. All of a sudden he becomes a raging bulvon. There isn’t a wasted scene in the movie. And what really appealed to me is that while we watch him slowly break down, the pace of the film acceler- ates.

ZL: There is a lot of structural work in the filmmaking, but hope- fully it’s never at the [expense] of what you are watching. It takes two or three times, but the more you watch the more apparent what goes on beneath the surface becomes.

SM: Have you seen “Anvil,” the rock documentary that came out two years ago?

ZL: No, I haven’t, but there must be enough of a similarity, because you’re not the first person who has mentioned it to me.

SM: It’s a documentary about an all but forgotten blue collar ’80s metal band whose members are rewarded with a Japanese concert tour. Stan doesn’t share quite the same happy ending.

ZL: It’s certainly not a concert tour (laughing). I do find it a happy ending myself. It’s not a Hallmark greeting card happy ending, but he is still going forward and for most of us in our lives, that’s what we get. We don’t get the Japanese con- cert tour. If anything, we’re lucky to get a smaller version of that. For a lot of us, the fact that he keeps going forward is happy.

see Strongman, page 19

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