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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Film captures man behind muscle

    Stanley Pleskun, better known by his persona Stanless Steel, is a world-class strongman famous for being one of the only humans alive who can bend a penny with his bare hands. He has deadlifted dump trucks. He has torn an entire deck of playing cards in half. He is famous in Japan. When filmmaker Zachary Levy met him, he was manning the camera as Stan stood on a runway in his hometown of Princeton, New Jersey, with a rope around each bicep. Attached at the other end: two Cessna Skyhawk airplanes. The Cessnas tried to take off in opposite directions while Stan flexed between them, holding them in place with propellers spinning wild. They hit it off right away.

    Levy spent the next three years of his life working on his directorial debut “”Strongman,”” an intimate documentary about Stanley that examines the man behind the muscle. Levy filmed close to 240 hours of footage, joining Stan at home, on the job collecting scrap metal, at feats of strength and during appearances in New Jersey and around the country. Working with a 270-pound steel-bender for 130 shooting days was, oddly, not an intimidating undertaking.

    “”Stan’s a big guy and a strong guy, but he doesn’t use his strength as a tool for intimidation,”” Levy said in a phone interview with Wildlife. “”That’s one of the reasons I was attracted to him — he doesn’t use strength in the most obvious ways.””

    Levy did not make “”Strongman”” with pure physical strength in mind. It is Stan’s emotional strength vulnerability that made him an appealing subject of exploration. Beyond Stan’s feats of power, which fail to bring him the same satisfaction that they used to, the film focuses on his fractured personal life: Stan’s alcoholic, knife-twirling brother; his longtime, codependent girlfriend Barbara; piles of cold steel machinery that refuse to recognize the man who rescued them from decrepit factories. Levy said one of his greatest challenges was not finding enough material to tell his story, but trimming his footage to a two-hour teaser of Stan’s complex life.

    “”Ultimately, you have to find the pieces that work together to tell the story,”” Levy said. “”It’s like found object artwork, and maybe not so different than Stan, stretching this scrap metal together into something that makes sense.””

    It’s tempting to reduce a man who struggles to apply his strength constructively and guts metal from foreclosed Jersey factories to a symbol of the recent recession. But Levy did not set out to make a political film. He set out to tell one man’s story.

    “”When I was filming, I didn’t want Stan to only be a symbol for something else,”” Levy said. “”I didn’t want Stan or Barbara or anyone in the world to be just metaphors, I want you to understand them as people first. They are people, fundamentally. I didn’t want America to be just symbols.””

    “”Strongman”” opens on Friday at The Loft Cinema.

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