June 22, 2008

Movie Review: Bigger, Stronger, Faster*

*The Side Effect of Being American.

This was an interesting, if slightly frustrating film. It is a documentary in a style similar to that employed by Michael Moore with Sicko and Morgan Spurlock with Super Size Me. It is fast paced, filled with all sorts of facts, funny, interesting, and overall an entertaining movie. Now, if you are not aware of this film, you should be. It concerns the effects of steroids, the facts, the myths, and the drive to be the best at what you do. No, it is not a uniquely American effect, but there is this drive to be the best that is instilled in the young at a very early age.

The documentary has come to my area for a limited one week run, so I wanted to make sure I went out to see it. The man behind the film, Chris Bell, has ties to the area, so this has to be somewhat special for him and his family. You see, I saw it in Poughkeepsie, NY, and Chris is from Poughkeepsie. He also spent time at Dutchess Community College at the same time I was there. We were both in the Communications program, but unfortunately, I do not actually recall knowing him or not. Still, it is always great to see a local boy (or girl) make good.

Chris Bell has crafted an informative film that shares something else in common with Moore's films. This is not a criticism; I just get the impression that certain things were left out. It is not that he is "lying," just that in order to support his thinking and his point of view some things may be left out or glossed over. So, it should go without saying that the subject, if you choose to, be investigated in a more thorough manner, do not accept anything blindly.

The most interesting aspect of Bigger, Stronger, Faster* is the way it seems like Chris Bell is doing soul-searching, using the film as a way to explore his feelings on the matter. It is a matter that has taken on some very personal meaning to him and he needs a way to attempt to sort his feelings.

Okay, let's back up a little bit. The film tells us, via first person narration, that Chris was a pale pudgy kid from Poughkeepsie who idolized the likes of Hulk Hogan, Sly Stallone, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. He has one older and one younger brother, and the three of them got into bodybuilding, with Chris fast becoming one of the strongest men in New York State. These three young men learned early on that the drive to compete was very strong and the only way that they would be able to compete with the big boys was to dive into the world of steroids. Both of Chris' brothers turned to this method of enhancement.

Chris Bell's approach takes a look at what steroids do, who has used them, reasons for using them, and the hazy world of "facts" surrounding their use and the side effects. What bothers me most about the film is that when the end rolls around, it still feels like Chris is still searching, he has not yet made a firm stance ast o where he stands. He seems to be straddling the line after proving, more or less, that steroids are not nearly as bad as they are said to be, while also pointing out the underlying win at all costs mentality.

Perhaps I was wanting too much. Perhaps I am being a little too critical. Sometimes, when I see a documentary, I want the filmmaker to either take no sides and provide compelling arguments for both sides, or take a specific stance and stick to it. In the case of Bigger, Stronger, Faster* there is no specific stance, although an easy argument could be made that it is pro-steroids. Another possibility is that I did not want to accept that this is a pro-steroids film. Going in I automatically assumed it would be anti-steroids, but I guess that plays into the demonization that the drugs have suffered over the years.

Bottomline. This is definitely a good film. There are some great interviews and it does not play along with the media's anti-steroids bias as it explores the issue of their use, as well as the underlying "win at all costs" mentality. This is a movie worth spending time with, regardless of which side of the issue you are on.



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