How two brothers from a poor background asserted their might to single-handedly turn a small industry into a global phenomenon.
Words by Ferdinand Godinez
When we think about it, most of the things we can’t live without today weren’t particularly well received at first. Thomas Edison’s idea of an electric light bulb was called a ‘fairy tale’, while the aeroplane conceptualized by the Wright Brothers was regarded as a ‘scientific toy with no military value’. Then there are the two brothers born to poor migrant parents who dreamt of transforming people’s perception of health, fitness and nutrition in a time when the industry was non-existent. They are Ben and Joe Weider and their story is the subject of Bigger, directed by George Gallo (29th Street and The Whole Ten Yards).
Re;eased UAE cinemas on 28th February, Bigger tells the inspiring journey of the Weider brothers, with more focus on Joe’s life story, as they build an empire that later serves as the foundation for the modern fitness industry we know today. After Joe was initially drawn into bodybuilding to fend off bullies in his rough Montreal neighbourhood, the brothers soon realised there were untapped business opportunities in the fitness realm, and founded several related magazines including Your Physique, Muscle and Fitness, Flex, Men’s Fitness and Shape.
Their fledgling publishing business soon extended into other ventures including fitness equipment, physical training, supplements and nutritional products. In fact, Weider Nutrition, now called Schiff Nutrition International, is considered the first sports nutrition company, founded in 1936. The brothers were also the brains behind popular bodybuilding competitions such as Mr Olympia, Ms Olympia and Masters Olympia, and co-founded the International Federation of Bodybuilders. Joe was also mentor to a young and driven bodybuilder from Austria named Arnold Schwarzenegger during the late 60s.
But these major accomplishments that greatly impacted the fitness industry didn’t come easily. While Bigger is your typical rags-to-riches story, the film shows how the brothers fought through social skepticism to pave the way for today’s multi-billion dollar fitness industry.
“It’s a historic film because it’s the first mainstream scripted feature about [the fitness] world,” producer Steve Lee Jones said at the 71st Cannes Film Festival.
“It’s a very layered and elegant looking movie about a couple of guys who gathered together $70, and ended up launching an industry that changed the world.”
He added: “I think it’s an important story for the youth of today because these guys took no shortcuts. It took them many decades to create this empire.
“They were relentless. They went against social norms, conventional wisdom. Doctors in the 40s and 50s thought that working out was bad for your heart because [you’d overwork] the heart’s muscle and they believed that [by] working out you would use up the beats of your heart. It’s crazy.
“Our story is about these guys who literally spent decades doing everything they could to advance this notion of gymnasium, of working out and finding a way
to balance the body and the mind.”
Eric Weider, son of Ben Weider and the film’s executive producer, agreed: “It dealt with a lot of the prejudices they came up against in terms of the medical community laughing at their ideas. But the truth is that my father, especially, was an incredibly optimistic person.
“Joe was a more complex character than my father, and I think that comes through in the movie. He was so focused on his goals, he never let negative things bring him down. He was a man on a mission – a man on a mission can’t be pulled down by all the things that are trying to pull you down.”
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