Muscle men: Zishe, Arnold and me

A couple of nights ago S brought home the video of "Invincible," mainly because we're Werner Herzog fans and had missed this one. It's supposedly based on the true story of Zishe Breitbart, a young Jewish blacksmith from a shtetl in eastern Poland. He had a brief and glorious career as a strongman in 1932 at a "Palace of the Occult" in Berlin, performing feats of strength before (among others) Nazi party functionaries as the mighty Siegfried, complete with blond wig and horned helmet. The showplace is run by a supposed clairvoyant, Hanussen (Tim Roth), who spouts pro-Nazi jingoism.

Zishe (played by Finnish strongman Jouko Ahola) isn't real bright, but he has figured out that the Nazis are not going to be good for the Jews, and after looking at himself in the mirror with his ridiculous wig, reveals his Jewish identity one night on stage. He becomes a Jewish hero in Berlin and a scandal to his Nazi former fans. Then Hanussen is revealed to be not merely a show-business charlatan but also a very frightened, nasty, ambitious Czech Jew, who also has admired Zishe. After Hanussen disappears from the movie (he's condemned of fraud and ultimately murdered -- I think that's a true story, also), the dramatic tension leaks out of the film. Zishe goes back home to warn his townsfolks against the Nazis, they scoff, he dies of gangrene brought on by a stunt meant to convince them of his strength, and the rest the rest of the world, as we know, soon goes to hell.

Zishe's huge muscles were all about strength for work and to help people. Arnold's strength was always all about big muscles to show off -- he's a true poseur. When I was a kid, I got my father to buy me a set of weights for both reasons: I wanted to look good, and I wanted to be strong. Then I discovered Charles Atlas, and discovered that I could become very strong without lifting iron weights -- except I wouldn't get the sharp muscular definition of the body-builders like Steve Reeves (remember him?) and Arnold Schwarzenegger. That was all right. My ideal masculine body type was more on the line of the Roman sculptures of the gods, who didn't worry about tiny waists and muscles on their muscles. By these standards, the best looking male body I ever saw (in photos) was Eugen Sandow's, with Charles Atlas as a close second.

Last week, though, some over-affluent neighbor discarded a pair of 20 lb. dumbells (good thing he didn't drop them down the disposal chute -- would have crashed the compactor). So now I've added curls to my pullups and pushups routines. After all, I'm approaching middle age (I plan to live a very long time), so I have to stay in shape.

Review of "Invincible"

Charles Atlas' original name was Angelo Siciliano. He's long dead, but here's his course of dynamic tension -- it really does work.

Eugen (or Eugene) Sandow was a stage-name, too. Back in East Prussia, where he was born in 1867, he had been Friedrich Wilhelm Müller. He was really strong, and looked good, too. (He did use mainly weights, though, unlike Charles Atlas.)

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