Saturday, June 25, 2011

Bigger Stronger Faster* (2008)

     Bigger Stronger Faster (2008) has the feel of a less angry, less manipulative Michael Moore documentary, right down to director and front-man Chris Bell's nasal Great Lakes accent.  Starting with the proposition that the muscle-bound stars -- especially including the professional wrestlers of the then WWF -- of the early-to-mid 1980s inspired a generation of children to do anything to look like them, BSF* takes the viewer through the world of steroid culture (which has demonizers and apologists) and American sports culture with the conclusion seeming to be that there is no comfortable workaround for the twin "American" desires for victory (competitiveness) and integrity.  
     The viewer may be left with the impression that anabolic steroids are something that every serious athlete or gym rat should be taking.  Bell's arguments against the use seem flimsy, outside condemnations backed by the Bible or his father's views on attaining one's potential by honest means.  However, Bell does make every effort to present both sides of the issue; the time dedicated to the pro-use camp is larger because the general awareness of the American citizen is that steroids are "bad" and will "kill you".  BSF* rightfully acknowledges that there are no long-term studies on the use of anabolic steroids (and there will be no controlled studies) because: a) those studies would be deemed unethical, and b) anabolic steroids are illegal without a prescription, making the majority of people using them for muscle mass gain and maintenance criminals.
     The one sad conclusion one can draw from Bell's brothers -- perhaps attributable to other steroid users -- is that there are twin driving forces of narcissism (because it goes well beyond vanity) and dependence at play when it comes to their on-going use.  It is striking that the steroid users interviewed continuously caution against children using steroids but believe it is the responsible course of action for adults seeking better physical performance, even when many of these people began using in their mid-teens.  The sensible arguments here are that teens do not have the means to ensure their product is safe, that the correct amount is being administered, or that the cycles are being adhered to.  None of those are made, though.  There is a complicity here, one that nicely dovetails with those who would wipe sports-related steroid use from the face of the earth, in trying to keep things pure and honest for the children.  It is a fantasy, but it is this very fantasy that Bell struggles to comprehend throughout the project.
     It is clear that Bell has some more to learn as a film maker.  His pacing is iffy at times.  He often leaves a question half asked and may or may not return to it later.  But, like Moore, he has done an excellent job of acquiring existent footage from other sources and using it to frame his vision in a very professional and entertaining manner.  While overlong by at least fifteen minutes, BSF* is a solid effort and well worth the time for anyone interested in an ambitious layperson's adventure into the connection between American culture and steroid use.

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