George Butler, an adventurous filmmaker who skillfully explored the bodybuilding subculture in “Pumping Iron,” a documentary starring then little-known Arnold Schwarzenegger as a charismatic center, died on October 21 at his home in Holderness, New Hampshire. He was 78 years old.
The cause was pneumonia, his son Desmond said.
“Pumping Iron” (1977) launched the British-born butler on an eclectic journey as a documentary filmmaker: he went on to make films about Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition; endangered Bengal tigers in the Sundarbans, a mangrove forest in India and Bangladesh; the exploration of Mars by robotic vehicle; and the presidential campaign of his longtime friend John Kerry in 2004.
“He said films should take people to places they couldn’t imagine, not just places they hadn’t been,” said Caroline Alexander, his longtime companion and business partner and screenwriter. or co-writer of five of his documentaries. telephone.
Butler’s best-known film is the popular documentary (with some scripted sequences) “Pumping Iron”, which he directed with Robert Fiore. He is credited with helping bodybuilders escape their niche as physical curiosities and gain recognition as serious athletes.
The butler said Daily news from New York in 1977 that there was a “myth” that bodybuilders were “uncoordinated, stupid, narcissistic muscleheads”, but that they were actually “adept at other sports – some at a professional level” .
“Pumping Iron” focused on a group of bodybuilders as they trained at Gold’s Gym in Venice Beach and competed in 1975, some for the Mr. Universe title and others for Mr. Olympia, in Pretoria , in South Africa. The film paid particular attention to the intense rivalry between Schwarzenegger, five-time Mr. Olympia, and the shy Lou Ferrigno, who was cast shortly after as the title role of the television series “The Incredible Hulk”.
Kevin Thomas from The Los Angeles Times praised “Pumping Iron” for treating bodybuilders “without compassion or ridicule, but rather with an unwavering detachment and cool – even when they are nakedly manipulative themselves – making for a smooth, artfully calculated, great fun experience and agreeable. “
George Tyssen Butler was born October 12, 1942 in Chester, England, and raised in Wales, Somalia, Kenya and Jamaica. His father, Desmond, was an Irish-born British Army officer who later ran an Avis plantation and rental car franchise in Jamaica. His mother, Dorothy (West) Butler, owned a restaurant business and rental properties in Jamaica.
George’s sense of adventure was stoked in Somalia, where he drank camel milk and hunted for dinner with his father. While living in Jamaica, he lifted weights at a gym in Montego Bay.
He graduated from Groton School in Massachusetts, then received a BA in English from the University of North Carolina and an MA in Creative Writing from Hollins College (now University) in Roanoke, Virginia. He then joined Vista (now AmeriCorps Vista), the national service program, in Detroit, where he started a community newspaper and began taking photos of the city after devastating riots.
His friendship with Kerry, future senator and secretary of state for Massachusetts, began in 1964 when they met at a party. In 1971, he accompanied Kerry when he testified emotionally against the Vietnam War before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and was editor and photographer for “The New Soldier,” Kerry’s book on protests in Washington by the organization Vietnam Veterans Against the War. .
Butler’s involvement in bodybuilding began in the early 1970s when he took photos of competitions for Life and The voice of the village. He and Charles Gaines, the author of “Stay Hungry,” a 1972 bodybuilding novel, teamed up for a Sports Illustrated article about a competition in Holyoke, Massachusetts. At another event, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Butler watched Schwarzenegger pose for a captivated audience.