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Bigger, Stronger, Faster* (A Movie Review)

Bigger, Stronger, Faster*

Bigger, Stronger, Faster*


Featuring Christopher Bell, Mike “Mad Dog” Bell, Mark “Smelly” Bell, Rosemary Bell, Sheldon Bell, Donald Hooton, Floyd Landis, Carl Lewis, Ben Johnson, Jay Cutler, Lyle Alzado, George W. Bush, Barry Bonds, Hulk Hogan, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Written by Christopher Bell, Alex Buono and Tamsin Rawady.

Directed by Christopher Bell.

Distributed by Magnolia Pictures.  106 minutes.  Rated PG-13.

Documentaries certainly have changed in the post-Michael Moore world.

Bigger, Stronger, Faster* is officially a documentary about the steroid problem, and yet it is at the same time a more broad-based look at the American obsession for winning.  Also, it is an intimate look at a family obsessed with wrestling stardom, and the changing environment of modern gyms.  It takes side trips to slap at Arnold Schwarzenegger, Hulk Hogan, Sly Stallone, Orrin Hatch and the supplement industry and say relatively nice things about Barry Bonds and Mark McQwire.  It’s anti-steroid and yet at the same time it is pro-steroid.

It is in equal measure fascinating, informative and sometimes a complete mess.

However, it is mostly an entertaining mess.

Bigger, Stronger, Faster* (the asterisk in the title is a reference to the suggestion that Barry Bonds’ home run record be affixed with an asterisk reminding the world he cheated in getting it) is the brainchild of Christopher Bell, a former state lifting champ who moved to Los Angeles with dreams of weightlifting stardom, only to find himself in his late 30s, still working a part-time gig at Gold’s Gym, the legendary Venice Beach mecca which spawned Schwarzenegger and Stallone.

His two brothers Mike and Mark have also been striving for stardom in professional wrestling, also with little success.  Mark and Mike have used steroids in their quest.  Chris did once and then quit due to guilt.

Bell has gotten the good-natured comic vibe of Michael Moore’s documentary filmmaking – peppering in clever jokes, topical references and the ironic use of old films – however I’m not sure I believe he has researched his points quite as avidly as Moore does.  Bell is an ingratiating host and is obviously passionately invested in his subject.  Many of his musclehead friends and family members are also funny and interesting enough.  Most of the professionals who talk on the subject are a little drier, but informative.

However, Bell seems to be a bit hazy on his position on his main point.  The great majority of the filmed evidence suggests that steroids are not as bad as has been made out – blaming that old standby scapegoat the media for distorting facts – and yet Bell still regularly refers to the taking of steroids as cheating and personally refuses to use them.  He often refers to steroids as bad for sport and the athlete’s health, but the huge majority of expert and personal testimony on steroids suggest here that they are completely safe if used correctly.  I’m not a doctor.  I can’t claim to know what the truth is, but I find it hard to believe that the entirety of the anti-steroid movement is a whitewash.  However, the only person here who pushes the con side is obviously a corporate stooge.  It seems a little like stacking the deck.

That isn’t the only time his facts are massaged to support his personal agenda.  As someone who has some knowledge of the vitamin supplement industry, I know for a fact that a short section where Bell tries to “expose” the natural products industry is comprised of half-truths and generalizations.  He suggests that the untrustworthy minority of companies (and they are out there – just as in any industry) are the norm, when they are actually the exception.  He suggests that supplements can be made in an apartment by illegal aliens, when in fact mostly they are made in FDA-monitored facilities.  I will give him the benefit of the doubt that he feels that strongly because he has mostly dealt with body building supplements, which is traditionally one of the shadier areas of the business, but it is inaccurate and unfair to paint an entire industry with such a broad brush.

However, when he does hit the mark, like a section which shows California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger distancing himself from steroids when earlier Arnold had acknowledged using them in the past, Bell’s film becomes fascinating.  This is starkly shown in a section where Schwarzenegger’s people insist on all of his images being removed from Gold’s Gym, which has been a temple to the man for decades.

I’m not sure I buy into Bell’s final conclusion – that maybe it is okay to use steroids because Americans always want to be the best.  However, there is enough intriguing info in Bigger, Stronger, Faster* to make it worth watching.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2008  All rights reserved.  Posted: July 1, 2008.

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