Stay Hungry

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Stay Hungry (1976) is director Bob Rafelson at his weirdest. At one point he juxtaposes the Mr. Universe contest with a sexual assault as if the masculinist bravura of bodybuilding were linked to sexual violence. All the while his protagonist is a mix between The Great Gatsby and Bobby Dupea. For Rafelson sexual virility is linked to class and violence in strange amorphous ways that are never coherent nor consistent.

And why is there sexual violence in Stay Hungry at all? Its inclusion within the narrative economy of the film is basically to make way for the Jeff Bridges character to buy the gym that is the center piece of the film. But this could have been accomplished any number of ways. So the scene of sexual assault must be linked to body building. Is a male committing acts of violence as much a showman as the bodybuilder? Is Rafelson suggesting that bodybuilding is a healthy alternative to rape? The film doesn’t provide answers.

This is the problem with Stay Hungry. It addresses a lot of social issues and class issues but it never gets to any sort of point or profound observation. A film needn’t provide answers, but it must make some sort of sense, even if only on an aesthetic level. Stay Hungry shifts its gears willy-nilly as if it were a series of short films cut together based on the appearance of certain cast members.

But what a cast it is in Stay Hungry. Jeff Bridges, Sally Field and Arnold Schwarzenegger carry the film well enough, but it is Robert Englund and Joe Spinell who steal the show. These beloved character actors appear briefly, but when they do Stay Hungry finds new life and the whole film becomes revitalized.

Still, a stellar cast cannot redeem Stay Hungry. I become more and more convinced with every Bob Rafelson film that I see that he never made a better picture than The King Of Marvin Gardens (1972). Come to Stay Hungry for Arnold, stay for Joe Spinell and Robert Englund. Or, in the interest of being fair, revel in the absurd spectacle of bodybuilders running through the streets of Birmingham.