Posted at 2:48 PM on June 6, 2008
by Euan Kerr
It's rare to come across of documentary which takes a controversial topic, holds it up to the light, and then really leaves it up to an audience member to decide the truth. Christopher Bell's movie "Bigger Stronger Faster" is such a movie.
Bell is a bodybuilder who refuses to take steroids because he feels it's immoral. The word he uses repeatedly to describe steroid-using athletes in "cheaters." Yet both of his brothers, one who is trying to break into pro-wrestling, the other who is a powerlifter, have used the drugs for years and see no reason to stop.
Bell uses the film to get his head around the ins and outs of the steroids debate by talking to an astonishing array of experts about the medical and the moral aspects of the issue.
There are the bodybuilders who are still trying to live the dream launched by watching Schwarzenegger and Stallone at the movies and Hogan in the ring. There's the father whose steroid using son hanged himself, and the former Olympic anti-doping official who has the letter telling Carl Lewis he's been banned from the Seoul Olympics for taking banned substances. (That letter was quietly forgotten, even as Canadian Ben Johnson lost his 100 meter gold medal after failing a drug test.)
Gregg Valentino, a body builder who claims to have the biggest biceps in the woirld. is shown in "Bigger, Stronger, Faster" after his arrest on steroid-related charges. (Image coutesy Magnolia Pictures.)
And there is athlete after athlete who admit to taking the drugs, including Gregg Valentino (above) who admits his arms are gross-looking, but he craves the attention they bring him..
There are the big names weighing in too: Carl Lewis, Ben Johnson, Floyd Landis, and Barry Bonds - who entered pleas of not guilty today after being re-indicted today on 15 felony counts of lying under oath about performance enhancing drug use.
There are the members of Congress who outlawed certain steroid use, despite not being clear on the facts, and high level doctors who argue that while every drug has side effects the case against steroid use is based more on hysteria than scientific studies.
And there are the classical musicians and USAF pilots who all freely admit to taking performance enhancing drugs which have somehow escaped the stigma attached to steroids.
All the way through the question keeps getting asked: is it still cheating if everyone is doing it? And how do you compete if you don't?
Even as Bell consults the experts, he also talks to his brothers and his parents about steroids on a very personal level: how it touches on their goals and aspirations, and their religious beliefs.
What emerges is not so much a story about a sports medicine controversy as an examination of a society obsessed with image, and the lengths people will go to find success.
Bell has made a film which offers answers, but leaves the conclusions to the viewer. It's a fine piece of work.