"I would refuse to wipe out that record or change it or alter it because of image's sake," Schwarzenegger said this week. "That would not be true to the filmmaker."
George Butler's critically acclaimed 1977 documentary follows Schwarzenegger as he prepares to defend his Mr. Olympia title against fellow bodybuilders including Lou Ferrigno.
A digitally enhanced version of "Pumping Iron," repackaged with previously unseen footage and interviews with actors and athletes influenced by Schwarzenegger, debuts Friday on the Cinemax channel.
Schwarzenegger retired from bodybuilding after winning the competition and began to build a movie career, including the early "Conan the Barbarian" and the breakthrough "The Terminator." He shot a third "Terminator" this year.
He's also been active in politics, most recently helping to win passage of an after-school-programs ballot measure in California, and has been widely reported as considering running for governor of California in 2006.
"Pumping Iron" follows the then-massively muscled Schwarzenegger working out or trying to psych out his opponents. He comes across as a merry prankster, telling a reporter in one scene that he advised an aspiring bodybuilder to scream, loudly, during poses.
Schwarzenegger may have been putting that reporter on. His claim in the film that he missed his father's funeral because it would have affected a competition was untrue, he says.
It was part of the "docudrama" approach needed to sell a movie about the little-appreciated sport of bodybuilding in 1977, he said in an interview this week.
Each bodybuilder had a part to play in the film and he was the calculating and cocky winner, Schwarzenegger said. "The way to get headlines, to promote the sport, was to make outrageous statements."
His determination, however, was real and apparently boundless. As a child in Austria, he recalls in the film, he dreamed of coming to the United States "and being the greatest."
"I had a vision when I was a kid and I went after that vision, after that goal, after that dream, and I would not let go until it was accomplished," Schwarzenegger said in the interview.
He's equally dedicated now, he said, toward movies and toward projects such as the Special Olympics and his after-school measure.
Schwarzenegger won't say if he has greater political aspirations, but he is unconcerned that any part of his past - such as the drag he takes off a marijuana cigarette in "Pumping Iron" - will hurt him.
"I did smoke a joint and I did inhale," he said, taking a jab at President Clinton's famous statement. "The bottom line is that's what it was in the '70s, that's what I did. I have never touched it since."
"I lived a certain life, I want everyone to know that's the life I lived. As you grow up and as you become more mature, those things change," he said.
"The only one that's perfect is God."
Still fit at 55, Schwarzenegger is proud of the attention he brought to professional bodybuilding and to how Americans perceive weight-training.
Watching "Pumping Iron" again, he said, "I thought about how far the idea of weight resistance training has gone, because in those days no one did it, no athlete, no older person. The medical industry didn't recommend it. Today, everybody's training."
By Lynn Elber