Zachary Levy would really like it if you saw his verité documentary, ”Strongman.”
And it’s not just that he’s trying to get out of debt. In examining Stanley ”Stainless Steel” Pleskun, a professional strongman known as the ”strongest man in the world at bending steel and metal,” Levy believes he’s captured a fundamental element of the human condition.
His film doesn’t ridicule Pleskun as a circus freak. In an e-mail interview, Levy said he ”just found (Pleskun) fascinating. The combination of gentleness and toughness, his strengths and weaknesses, (his) humor,” all came together after years of production to craft a portrait of an artist rather than a sideshow attraction.
That artistic distinction drives ”Strongman.” How Pleskun does what he does, how his actions affect him physically and mentally, how he combats his advancing age as well as feelings of inadequacy and disappointment — these issues impact all creatively driven people.
Levy sees his film as ”a story that really anyone who was trying to do something artistic could understand — whether they’re lifting weights or trying to write a novel or make a great painting.”
In that regard, Levy’s decision to go the way of the Maysles brothers with an objective cinematic perspective adds an additional aesthetic kick to the proceedings.
”I liked the challenge of trying to tell a fundamentally internal, existential story with such a realistic form,” Levy said of the film, in which form mimics content. As Levy uses the concrete and objective storytelling techniques of verité style to depict Pleskun’s abstract internalities, so does Pleskun craft art from a venue not often viewed as artistic.
The goal is to have viewers understand Pleskun on a level beyond his physicality. Gaining that empathy is incredibly important to Levy. As he put it, ”I like it if people leave feeling like they’ve walked in Stan’s shoes some. There’s a Pete Seeger line that I like, ‘In this world of joy and sorrow, we still can have singing tomorrows,’ and that is often how I feel when I watch the film: realistic about the complexities of life but also knowing that in spite of them, there’s still hope and beauty.”
I’m extremely excited about catching ”Strongman.” Audiences who see it love it — it wowed them at the 2009 SXSW Film Festival and won the Grand Jury Prize at the Slamdance Festival. At 6:30 p.m. Friday, it makes its Maine premiere at the Portland Museum of Art’s Movies at the Museum.
Hope I’ll see you there.
Josh Katz is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.