What movie was that...?

28 January 2014


directed by Zachary Levy

Some documentarians are concerned with style and content in equal measure. Dogtown and Z-Boys and Style Wars, pour example, have style for days, but this is appropriate because the subject matter demands it. Would Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus be as mesmerizing if all of its fascinating characters were simply interviewed and tracked with a shoddy camera? My guess is probably not, but on the other hand there are excellent documentaries that don’t seem preoccupied with such frivolities (American Movie is a prime example of such magic). These “basic” types of documentaries can be disarming, because you don’t always expect such depth to emerge from the wreckage, but occasionally one sneaks out of nowhere (or, in this case, pops up on the Netflix reco page) and leaves you with that embattled sense of awe. I say embattled because documentaries like this (see definition at: good) always fill me with a tangled collection of wonder, joy and sadness, a sense that this world and the people in it are infinitely odd, infinitely flawed, and infinitely wonderful. Zachary Levy’s Strongman is a fragile, ramshackle, tragically sincere glimpse into the small world of a man with titanic abilities, abilities that are unfortunately hard to make dazzling, dynamic or marketable. That doesn’t make them any less astounding, but it frames the plight of the documentary’s focus, strongman Stanley Pleskun (who goes by Stanless Steel), as he struggles to translate his unique skill set into a lucrative career. Pleskun himself works by day doing industrial tear outs and scrounging scrap metal from warehouses, but his determination to find an outlet for his strength drives him to perform at every turn, sometimes for no one else but a porch full of intoxicated good old boys. Levy doesn’t belabor Pleskun’s promethean struggle to break big too much, opting instead to stitch together scenes of chaotic familial dynamics, struggling romance and deep sadness into a kind of liquid, free flowing narration that paints an impression rather than hammer home a biographer’s thesis. This film is the stronger for it, and this is not to say that there is not humor to be found. This is also not to say Levy depicts Pleskun as a hulking brute out of time with no use. Through Levy’s lens, we understand the difficulties someone with such singular abilities faces when trying to market his talents, we glimpse the unlikely loveliness of a quirky romance (Stanley and Barbara are a couple for the ages) and the inevitable sadness of a relationship as it self-destructs, we experience the emotive bond (for better or worse) of a close but dysfunctional family. And despite all that, we even feel warming rays of hope at the end of the film as things begin to come full circle for Stanley and Barbara. Of course, if you’re a real Grinch, you could also see it as the doom laden reset point for a cycle of tragedy and heartbreak. But I try not to be such a Grinch…

Much like Stanless Steel, Levy’s documentary won’t win any awards for slick, pretty packaging, but the power still finds a way to strike you in the most unlikely places. 

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