School of Historical and Philosophical Studies - Research Publications

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    Muscles, hybrids and new bad futures
    Since Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone made their respective debuts onto the cinematic screen the muscle phenomenon has become a dominant factor in the cinema of the 1980s and 1990s. Muscle, in all its hard and sweaty glory, has found a market especially in the big budget extravaganzas whose narratives centre around the spectacle of the built bodies of male stars such as Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Lundgren, Van Damme, Snipes and Seagal, and the more padded forms of actors such as Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson. This new brand of cinema whilst harking back in part to an American tradition of genre cinema (the Western, Detective films, War Films etc.) appears to owe more to genres that emerged outside America: the Italian `gladiator' pictures of the 1950s and 1960s which retold the adventures of Hercules and other mythic heroes via the forms of bodybuilding stars such as Steve Reeves and Reg Park; and the martial arts action films popularized by Hong Kong Cinema and which found a very profitable market in the West ‐ and which also saw the migration of the genre into American cinema starring a series of martial arts experts including Chuck Norris, Bruce Lee and Jean‐Claude van Damme. Both genres revealed an unabashed display of the spectacle of action and the spectacle of the male body in action. The camera found any excuse to unapolegetically caress the bodies of the stars with pans, tracks and close‐ups of various fragmented body parts in ways that always denoted strength, agility and power.