Raising the Bar 2: The Continuing Story
of a Life in Bodybuilding

Producer: Mike Pulcinella Video Productions http://www.mikepulcinella.com
Date: 2007
Length 1:49 (plus 8 minutes of bonus material)
Written, shot and edited by Mike Pulcinella
Assistant editor: Dave Pulcinella http://www.davepulcinella.com
Original music: Martin Bailey http://www.myspace.com/powerescape
Additional music: Mike and Dave Pulcinella
Availability: http://www.mesomorphosis.com/store/videos/dave-pulcinella-raising-the-bar-2.html

RTB2 continues the film Mike Pulcinella made about his brother Dave in 2005. While building on the first film, RTB2 has a different focus: it shows Dave competing nationally while facing difficulties from all sides. The stakes are higher for Dave this time (framed by contests in 2005-2006). He is trying to achieve pro status in the IFBB by winning a pro qualifier at the masters level. He is dealing with frayed relationships. Finally, he is fighting the physical stresses of competing at an elite level of the NPC while over the age of 40. 

More than RTB did, this film employs short profiles of others involved in Dave’s life. From these connections, we learn about Dave as a competitor and person. 

Dave’s partner Jenn is the first one profiled. They met in 1999 when she became a client seeking nutritional and training advice. As they start dating and she decides to do NPC figure events, we find out her family doesn’t support her desire to compete. One of the advantages of their competing in the same show is that Dave and Jenn can share the experience, but the grueling contest prep strains their connection. Dave is more committed to competition than Jenn is, and that creates a barrier for them. Dave has given so much of himself to bodybuilding that little in his life relates to anything else at this point. Jenn loves to go to the beach, but her regimented training has prevented her from doing so since 2002. When she decides to take a break from competition, a showdown seems imminent. 

Next, the former “email hater” Lance Shaw (whom Dave defeated at the 2004 NPC Delaware show, as shown in RTB), swallows his pride and asks Dave to help him prepare for the 2005 NPC South Jersey show, just the second time Lance will be competing. Dave helps guide him into his best condition, only to find that Craig Torres has entered unexpectedly in the same weight class to requalify at the national level. Lance’s sister sums it up backstage: Lance won’t win because he still looks human. This disappointment prefigures the later contests in the film, as Dave’s fate hangs in the balance between judges and his own body’s resistance to contest prep. 

Health problems beset Dave at this point. During the 2005 North Americans (his first masters show, having just turned 40), Dave has severe cramping during the contest. The pain is so bad that after he wins his class (masters heavyweights), he can’t walk back out for the final comparisons, possibly losing an overall win and pro qualification. During his spring 2006 contest prep, he tears a right hamstring while doing walking lunges, sidetracking him for three weeks. Meanwhile, “a dizzying array” of workout partners can’t keep up with his to-the-minute schedule of nutrition and workouts. Dave calls upon an old friend, Tim Covert, to help him regain momentum in the gym. Tim, all but a standup comedian, restores Dave’s sense of humor in a series of funny, tightly edited gym scenes punched up by Martin Bailey’s smart score. 

The second half of the film concerns the 2006 NPC Masters Nationals in Pittsburgh. From the plane ride to the airport to the hotel, we see it every step of the way. Mike fortunately got the approval of Repetrope (which has rights to the show) to film in contest venues. Liz DeCherney’s presence deepens the rift between Dave and Jenn, because Liz is handling Dave’s logistics just at the point that Jenn can’t handle any more stress. On Thursday evening (the night before prejudging, after the weigh-in), an argument over whether Jenn should stay in with Dave or go out with Liz breaks the rest of Jenn’s spirit. After that, they say little to each other. Meanwhile, Dave starts cramping again (“my most unfavorite part” of it, he says). Fortunately he gets through prejudging, where he makes the first callout (although he’s the last of the group called out). 

An external crisis now occurs: Anthony D’Arezzo, another competitor, has collapsed in his hotel room down the hall and is taken to a hospital by EMTs, where he dies of heart problems he had previously been treated for. Promoter Gary Udit’s announcement of his death at a Friday meeting shocks the roomful of competitors, making the health risks sometimes involved in bodybuilding impossible to ignore. 

When Dave seems at his most vulnerable, Mike introduces their sister Christine to the mix. She’s briefly profiled, revealing that she discontinued her modeling career to be a wife and mother. Christine directly attacks Dave’s decision to continue in bodybuilding, becoming a countervoice to everything he dedicates his life to -- and also objecting to his absence from family events like a small nephew’s birthday party, beautifully caught on film. While it seems Dave is getting kicked while he’s down, it’s clear Christine loves her brother and doesn’t want to lose him to what D’Arezzo suffered. 

The results of the Masters Nationals evening show are now revealed: Dave makes the top five in the heavyweight class, getting 4th place in the finals. While he achieves what he’d hoped to (top five in his class), the victory is eclipsed by D’Arezzo’s passing, and by the failure of Dave and Jenn’s relationship. At home before the 2006 North Americans, after she’s moved out, Dave reflects on not having to worry about Jenn now, while still missing her. “I had no idea how good we had it,” he says. There’s a touch of the end of Raging Bull in Dave’s rueful confession. In this brilliant, devastating film, we come to understand what those intimately connected to high achievers go through, and what the achievers themselves must go through to survive—if they can. 

Mike Emery

September 2007