Bigger, Stronger, Faster*
Details: 105 mins, English
Synopsis: Examines the steroid use of the director Christopher Bell and his two brothers who all grew up idolizing Arnold Schwarzenegger, Hulk Hogan, and Sylvester Stallone, and also features professional athletes, medical experts, fitness center members, and US Congressman talking about the issue of anabolic steroids.
A dangerous side effect of being a ‘true’ American.
A kind of Super Size Me on steroids, Christopher Bell’s illuminating documentary exposes another unhealthy American obsession: performance-enhancing drugs.
While Bigger, Stronger, Faster* rightly points the finger at such high-profile anabolic steroid abusers as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Hulk Hogan, Ben Johnson, baseball stars Barry Bonds and Jose Canesco, and Olympian Marion Jones, the docu is also intensely personal as Bell turns the camera onto his own family.
His older brother Mike Bell, nicknamed “Mad Dog,” and younger sibling Mark, aka “Smelly,” both use steroids in pursuit of their dreams: one to become a pro wrestling star (despite rejections from World Wrestling Entertainment), the other to excel at power-lifting.
Their intelligent, caring parents despair of their sons’ addictions. Their father sadly describes Mike as a “screw-up” and mutters, “I think they’ll find him dead one day.” Their mother is visibly shaken when Chris tells her the boys were first given steroids by her brother John, and she wails, “My heart is broken.”
Yet to Bell’s credit he presents both sides of the debate, including interviews with advocates such as an AIDS sufferer and bodybuilders who claim the side-effects are minimal.
A former steroids user, the director/co-writer traces the history of performance enhancement in sports back to the 1950s when a physician for the US Olympics weight-lifting team saw Soviet athletes being given injections and figured his charges should get artificial boosters. Bell cites some alarming statistics: an estimated 85% of gym junkies and 15% of athletes in the US use some form of performance-enhancing drug.
Sylvester Stallone’s conviction for importing human growth hormones into Australia in 2007 is mentioned. Bell interviews an array of former and current athletes, medical and scientific experts, politicians and a Houston man who’s convinced steroids drove his 17-year-old son to suicide, despite evidence that anti-depressants may have been the culprit. What could have been a boring talk-fest is consistently entertaining thanks to rapid editing, animation, astute narration, Bell’s brave interviews and often ironic songs.
He concludes that taking body-boosters is at the heart of an American dilemma: the challenge of striving to be the best while doing the right thing. The asterix in the title, by the way, stands for: The side-effects of being American. Extras include deleted scenes and behind-the-scenes footage.
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