Stay Hungry (1976) Directed by Bob Rafelson
I am compelled to admit that this New Hollywood piece from the mid-1970s did not touch and inspire me as much as I hoped – or as much as it should considering that I am turning into a serious 1970s movie nerd. Was it my own mind wandering or did they really mumble so much in Stay Hungry that 24 hours later I cannot bring myself to focus on the experience?
Anyway, here's what I think: in the 1970s Hollywood regularly churned out quality movies, which concentrated on telling a great story. Yes, they had wonderful actors, fabulous new directors bursting with enthusiasm, they had brave cinematographers, crazy producers and all the mind-altering substances imaginable, but at the center of it all was the narrative. Something needed to be expressed. My claim being that the New Hollywood films were not selling anything to the audience.
Fastforward a couple of decades to the present. Here I am feeling uncomfortable as this thought turns into text, but I feel that now even the smallest of indie films are selling something. If nothing else, they are selling us a great indie soundtrack, a way of life, a car, a PC perspective on something controversial, and obviously, an actress or an actor of the star cult. Is it just my inability to distance myself from the present making me uneasy in my seat at the local multiplex? Is it my own paranoia? Or am I right in feeling that watching a film is about conscious and unconscious processes of decoding messages of what I should purchase?
Stay Hungry gives us Arnold Schwarzenegger's first Hollywood role. To me he represents almost everything that has gone wrong between the 1970s and the present moment. I'm sure that does not come as a surprise. What surprises me is that in this film (the director Rafelson earlier made the must-see Five Easy Pieces) Arnie is not a joke. His physical appearance and his role actually conjoin to claim that Arnie did not necessarily go to Hollywood to become a robotic killer or a mayor. Maybe he was just a guy who wanted to be an actor. Maybe he was a young man with low self-esteem. Something changed, or even died in the stories and in the expressions of Hollywood – but I cannot blame Arnie for that. Not anymore.
I never went in for the whole body building thing. It seemed to be something that rose to prominence during my adolescence. Pumping Iron. From a very early age, much like my mother, I was dealt the thin look. No muscles on me. I had a metabolism that seemed to keep me thin. I say had, because as I've crawled into middle age, a widening of girth has accelerated. Nowadays I have an increasing waistline (the area where my body seems ripe for expansion). Of course, exercise is something I rarely partake in. To look at Arnold Schwarzenegger debuting in Stay Hungry you realize the level of dedication it takes to look like some kind of unnatural freak. Hey, no six pack on me thanks.
Stay Hungry is a soft, entertaining picture, with intricate, comedy relationship webs set against a back drop of syndicate property expansion. Man of the moment Jeff Bridges turns in another stellar turn as the rich boy who befriends the freaks at the gym, falls in love and decides to do the right thing. A great supporting cast of R.G Armstrong, Sally Field, Robert Englund and Schwarzenegger gives ensemble credence. Bob Rafelson was on something of a roll following on from Five Easy Pieces and The King Of Marvin Gardens. He'd never top that three-in-a-row run, but then who would? Stay Hungry is almost forgotten nowadays. It deserves to be found like it's predecessors. A small wonder.