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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

BIGGER STRONGER FASTER -- movie review by porfle

Does Batman take steroids? You might wonder about that after seeing Chris Bell's 2008 documentary BIGGER STRONGER FASTER, which reveals that a great number of our real-life heroes get where they are with the aid of performance-enhancing drugs. Particularly apt is the use of a clip from the old "Captain America" cartoon which shows the origin of the famous hero, in which he is transformed from skinny army reject into hulking superhero through chemical means.

With an engaging narration and a snappy documentary style which includes lots of stock shots, news footage, movie and TV clips, home movies, etc., Bell takes us through the various steroid-related sports scandals of recent years, from the heavy hitters of baseball to the track-and-field dynamos of the Olympics to the musclebound monsters of professional wrestling. We also find out about steroid use in unexpected areas such as academia and the military, and we see how others use them in the obsessively vain pursuit of physical perfection.

A major figure in this saga is bodybuilding legend Arnold Schwarzenegger, who embodies America's conflicting attitudes toward steroids. Arnold admits that they helped him become Mr. Olympia, yet he speaks out against them now while telling kids they can make it without them. We also see those Senate hearings in which baseball players like Mark McGwire were raked over the coals while Arnold, once appointed chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, still hosts the Mr. Olympia competition which is rife with steroid use.

All of this serves as a backdrop to Chris Bell's personal story, which is the most compelling part of BIGGER STRONGER FASTER. He and his two brothers were overweight kids who dreamed of being big and strong like their wrestling and bodybuilding heroes, and eventually started using the drugs themselves. Older brother Mike ("Mad Dog") continues to use them even as his dream of becoming a pro wrestler has clearly passed him by, while younger brother Mark ("Smelly") keeps pumping himself up with them in his quest to set weightlifting records.

While their mother agonizes over her sons' decision to use drugs to better themselves, their dad philosophizes that none of our heroes are perfect. Some of the best moments come from Chris Bell's talks with his parents, because instead of an interviewer-subject situation in which he's obviously pushing a point, we get heart-to-heart talks that clearly effect him emotionally and force him to acknowledge the other side of the issue.

Meanwhile, we get to know some of the longterm gym rats who seem hopelessly addicted to the act of bulking up itself. One guy lives in a van in the parking lot of Gold's Gym. Another has increased the size of his biceps to shockingly grotesque proportions, fully aware that it makes him look like a freak, because he craves the attention. And on the other end of the spectrum, there's an HIV sufferer who has used anabolic steroids to ward off the effects of his disease for the last twenty-five years. Bell seems equally sympathetic to all of these guys.

Ultimately, BIGGER STRONGER FASTER is an indictment not of steroid use, but of its general condemnation by a public that demands not just heroes, but superheroes. Bell seems to be saying that steroids are no more harmful than Flintstone multi-vitamins, and that everyone should be allowed to take them in order to compete fairly in their chosen field of competition. As he tells us at one point: "I tried steroids, and it felt so good that I knew I had to stop. And now I can't even compete in the sport I grew up loving."

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Jay dune said...

great review, and right on all points

Porfle Popnecker said...