Released in November 2019, “Dorian Yates: The Original Mass Monster” reveals the story of 6 x Mr Olympia Dorian Yates, the man that many consider responsible for competitive bodybuilding’s transition to its modern format: mass monsters. But does Vlad Yudin’s documentary merely showcase already well-trodden ground? Read on in my review…
As with Vlad Yudin’s previous documentaries, they feature the contemporary group of big name bodybuilders and their perceptions of Yates. With names like King Kamali, Jay Cutler and Chris Cormier you get an insight into 90’s bodybuilding, whilst Yates’s family and friends offer a more grounded perspective, including his adult son, ex-wife and friend/journalist Peter McGough.
Dorian Yates stands undisputedly as a bodybuilding Hall of Famer, with his Olympia title reign (1992-1997) ushering in a new, if not controversial era of bodybuilding. This documentary does not seek to challenge that fact, rather it seems to raise the question of what one of the world’s greatest bodybuilders seeks to do when retired, and the mental health issues that come with it, all whilst telling the story of the Mass Monster.
Unlike Yudin’s previous entries, “The Original Mass Monster” offers a unique perspective into bodybuilding, as well as exploring Dorian’s life. Whilst one would expect the documentary to highlight Yates’s impact on competitive bodybuilding, this is not the primary focus. Rather, it seems determined to explore how bodybuilding affected the former Mr Olympia, raising the question of what does a champion do, when he is no longer interested in what defined his life?
Taking us through his childhood and his early life prior to his move to Birmingham, we are offered an insight into Dorian’s character – the death of his dad when Yates was only 13 years-old clearly had a significant emotional impact and contributed to his stoic personality (and as the man himself later admits, probably led him into bodybuilding).
Yates himself takes us through the streets of Birmingham (his mother moving there with her second husband) where he grew up. Discussing his time in a gang of skinheads (think 70’s/80’s British counter-culture rather than the current racist connotations) and the incident that led to a brief stint in prison and an introduction to weight-lifting.
The Growth of “The Shadow”
As expected, “Dorian Yates: The Original Mass Monster” discusses Dorian’s rise to fame as a bodybuilder and how he took and held the throne. In addition, it charts his own exponential growth between 1992 and 1993, featuring numerous training videos and an insight into his no-nonsense approach to training; preferring high-intensity to squeezing out countless reps like most modern (and golden-era) bodybuilders. Less focus is paid to his time at the top, with greater attention being placed on Dorian’s mindset and techniques and largely the mythos surrounding him – including how he earned the nickname ‘The Shadow’ (coined by journalist Peter McGough).
Dorian was the First to Bring a Grainy, Detailed Condition to his Immense Size onto the Stage
For those interested in the history and eras of bodybuilding, the film features a great deal of stage footage from various Olympias; notably in much better quality than those shown in the Ronnie Coleman documentary, actually allowing us to see Yates and compare him to the competition. It also highlights how Dorian was the first to bring a grainy, detailed condition to his immense size onto the stage – achieved by dropping your body fat so low, that the skin takes on a grainy, sandy look.
Yates is happy to talk about his career, though the starting interview with him sets the tone for his view on modern bodybuilding: “I am no longer very interested in bodybuilding”. Of course, this could detract from the viewer experience – how can a world best no longer be interested in the sport he dominated; it’s comparable to Usain Bolt showing no interest in sprinting.
The Emotional Impact of Bodybuilding on Family Life
However, this is also the documentary’s greatest strength; allowing for greater, uninhibited reflection from Dorian and his immediate circle. His son and ex-wife both discuss how Dorian’s training often led to a lack of focus on everyday matters, including family time and the emotional impact that professional bodybuilding can have on a family.
Similarly, his family also dwell on his mindset after bodybuilding and his lack of an ‘identity’ after the 1997 Olympia. Dorian reflects on the perfect storm that caused his depression, from the loss of a friend to the huge dip in testosterone after he stopped taking steroids. His resulting party lifestyle, including taking a huge variety of drugs (making up for his formerly ‘monkish’ attitude when training) resulting in an overdose that nearly took his life.
Dorian Yates now Openly Explores Spirituality & Yoga
The modern-day Yates is openly reflective, but as noted by all those close to him, still unemotional about his past. Whilst he seems significantly different to his younger-self, some traits are still hinted at. He remains unwaveringly focused; exploring his spiritual self through yoga, drug taking and meditation, but still finding time to travel, spend time with his family and train clients with his usual British cheeriness (especially when one ends up throwing up in the gym toilet). It stands to reason that Yates is as dedicated to different parts of his modern-life as he was when writing down his workout routines and determining the half life of different performance enhancing drugs, (PEDs).
“Dorian Yates: The Original Mass Monster” offers an insight into the mind of one of the most renowned and impactful bodybuilders to ever compete. Though entertaining, it aims to dissect and investigate more than Yudin’s previous works – opting not to depict Yates as an infallible pioneer of the sport (often how former Mr Olympia’s are depicted), but rather as a ‘straight-to-the point’ subject who will speak his mind.