10 June 2008
BIGGER, STRONGER, FASTER*
As a short kid growing up in Poughkeepsie in the 1980s, Christopher Bell and his brothers Mark and Mike were picked-on outcasts until the tremendously pumped-up likes of Hulk Hogan and Arnold Schwarzenegger came along and saturated American pop culture. In emulating their heroes, the three brothers became gym rats and all sought careers as professional wrestlers and weightlifters. All three also eventually tried anabolic steroids to stay competitive in a world of ever-stronger, more muscularly enhanced men (and women). Mark and Mike continued to use them; citing personal and moral issues regarding the drug, Christopher stopped using after awhile and made this documentary.
In examining the drug's increased usage in bodybuilding, wrestling and other professional sports, Bell strives to show how symptomatic it is of America's desire to be the best in everything, not settling for number two. For the most part, he succeeds. Obviously influenced by Michael Moore (whom he resembles vocally), Bell takes a far less slanted approach to his thesis. Although the subject matter is personal and set up as such, he approaches it from nearly every possible angle: inquiring about both the positive and negative effects of steroids, who uses them and why, and the subtle differences between them and the array of other performance enhancing drugs on and off the market. I was impressed with many of the unexpected things he considered: in one scene, he interviews a man living with AIDS who greatly benefited from the drug; in others, he uncovers the disturbing but telling rationalization many athletes (such as Barry Bonds) make for lying about using the drug: everyone else does it.
At times, Bell is both too earnest and a little exhaustive: there's enough material for one and a half films and as it drags a little in its last half-hour, the impact lessens. He also could stand to use less of Moore's shtick, such as the occasionally cutesy music or stunt (in one of the latter, he employs some illegal immigrants to make seem performance enhancing drugs in his home). But Bell makes a convincing case against illegal steroid use; as for whether they're "good" or "bad", he doesn't obscure the many shades of grey that question raises.