BIGGER STRONGER FASTER (2008) – Documentary Retroview

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bigger stronger faster posterIn his highly personal documentary, director Chris Bell takes us down the path he’s followed since childhood as he has struggled to find his place in his family and to define his personal goals with regards to athleticism and the use of steroids.

The personal tone of this documentary makes it particularly interesting and gives director Chris Bell reason to have cast himself as its central character. Bell uses family photos from his childhood, home videos and other archival footage and current interviews with his siblings and parents to reveal what it was like for him to grow up as the second of three boy children in a household obsessed with body image and competitive sports.

Chris Bell says his family is obese and he felt steroids would help him beat his fat boy image and enhance his self esteem. Bell shows how very easy it was for the three siblings–himself included–to fall into the use of steroids to build bulk and enhance their performance–first in high school football, then in bodybuilding and professional wrestling.

The film isn’t an apology, nor is it a hard-lined expose and condemnation of doping. Instead, Bell and his brothers give an honest assessment of what steroids brought to their game, how they felt and feel about using the drugs and where drug use has left them today–in terms of their health and their personal and professional relationships.

Interviews with mom and the other women in their lives are particularly moving. Steroid use is addictive, and does have severe health consequences.

Bell also points his camera at other steroid users: Sylvester Stallone as Rambo, Arnold Schwarzenegger as champion bodybuilder and movie star, and Hulk Hogan as champion wrestler. They were Bell’s childhood heroes and role models. As an adult, looking back, he comments on their dishonesty about their drug use, but also indicates how commonplace it was for athletes to deny their doping. The story of Barry Bonds’ steroid use brings him down, but doping is still widespread among professional and hobby athletes.

Bell and his brothers are likable characters. They and the film have an aura of honesty. Their story raises significant questions about why American youths feel such a strong need to be bigger, stronger and faster that they would take steroids that put their health and reputation at risk.

It’s painful to watch the Bell brothers transform themselves into monsters of muscle. Their struggle is made more poignant in retrospect, knowing that Chris Bell’s eldest brother, Mike “Maddog” Bell, died at age 37 of acute myocardial infarction, a year after release of the film.

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