American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
"Strongman" is a tantalizing example of the kind of documentary I find engrossing: A film about an unusual person that invites us into the mystery of a human life. Stanley Pleskun bills himself as "Stanless Steel, the Strongest Man Alive." Whether this is true is beside the point. Stanless, as I will call him, believes it absolutely. His girlfriend Barbara and his brother Michael agree, I gather, although they never actually say so.
How does the Strongest Man in the World support himself? He works as a freelancer in the scrap metal industry, collecting scrap and hauling it to a yard. We see him heaving heavy loads into the bed of his truck. Does this help him train? No, I learn from the film's notes, it tires him out and makes it harder to train. Although Zackary Levy, the filmmaker, followed him over a course of years and shot hundreds of hours of films, we only see him actually training twice: Once squeezing a hand grip, and again staggering for several yards while carrying heavy concrete blocks.
He is a strict vegetarian who does not smoke or drink, and lives on fruit and vegetable juices. We see him demolish a dozen ears of corn in a single brief sitting. We also see him, perhaps during times of stress, smoking, having a beer and sharing a pizza. Nobody's perfect. Stanless is convinced he doesn't smoke, and advises Barbara to cut it out. He also bums smokes from her.
Barbara is a great mystery to me. She is a good-looking woman about the same age as Stanless. Old photos show her with the facial structure of a model. Her skin remains unlined. She wears her hair in a graying ponytail or braids. She has a presence. She has a beauty. Stanless moves in with her. She rehearses to introduce his act: "Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls! Presenting Staaaaaanless Steeeel! The Strongest Man in the Woooorld!" He makes appearances at events in New Jersey and New York, bending steel bars, lifting trucks, and so on. He is paid $1,000 and expenses to appear on a British TV show.