Toronto Standard Hot Docs recommendations
I don’t care much about feats of physical strength, but by the end of Bending Steel I cared quite a bit about strongman Chris “Wonder” Schoeck. He’s a fascinating, oddly touching figure–a stoic loner who long ago replaced human relationships with a bizarre, all-consuming pastime: mangling hunks of steel with his bare hands. Schoeck works as a personal trainer, but when the film begins he’s desperate to join a crew of professional strongmen debuting a new act on Coney Island. Feats of strength aren’t enough to join their ranks, though–he needs to be a performer, too, which means learning to connect with his fellow human beings, even if only briefly. The movie isn’t just about a man fumbling towards engagement with the world, it’s a lovely demonstration of how actions gain meaning by being witnessed and shared. In the early scenes, when Schoeck practices secretly in his basement, his hobby seems kind of stupid; by the end, when he’s doing it for his supportive teammates and for the eager crowd, there’s something strangely beautiful about it. His big finale–an attempt to bend a bar he’s never been able to bend before–makes for one of the most perfect, moving documentary endings you’ll ever see.