- Bigger Stronger Faster (2008)
As an intentional twist of the Olympic motto, “citius, altius, fortius,” the title of director Chris Bell’s documentary film, Bigger Stronger Faster, alludes to the “win-at-all-cost” ethos that, he argues, has become common in sport and in American culture. Through an examination of performance-enhancing drug use, particularly anabolic steroids, Bell demonstrates that the mentality “bigger is better” is pervasive in American culture, and he questions whether or not this mindset now overshadows the old adage that cheaters never prosper.
The central theme of the film examines the concept of cheating and the fine line that separates the actions a society considers acceptable from the actions deemed unacceptable. Throughout the film Bell links his interest in the development of strength and muscles to his childhood idolization of strong, powerful men, such as Sylvester Stallone, Hulk Hogan, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who always triumph over their nemeses. Using footage from old home movies, he shows how he and his two brothers took up wrestling and powerlifting in an attempt to develop the extreme musculature possessed by their idols. Upon discovering that his childhood heroes had relied on anabolic steroids to develop their massive physiques rather than the regimen of hard work, prayer, and multi-vitamins that Hogan publicly advocated, Bell’s feelings of despair and betrayal motivated his inquiry into anabolic steroid use. The question of why Bell felt taking anabolic steroids was an invalid way to achieve his goals, while others, including his chronically steroid-fueled brothers, found nothing morally problematic with chemical assistance, drive the film.
In seeking to separate valid and sound information about anabolic steroid use from the myths and stereotypes that surround the issue, Bell spent more than one hundred days interviewing the key players in the steroid debate. The impressive roster of sports stars, current and former steroid users, politicians, policymakers, scientists, and ethicists interviewed in the film provides a wide variety of perspectives, conflicting positions, and no shortage of interesting sound bites. Bell does not shy away from asking the difficult questions, and his straightforward and honest interviewing skills are a highlight of the film.
Bell’s co-producers contributed to the films Bowling for Columbine (2002) and Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004), and it shows. Using a similar fast-paced onslaught of constantly changing visual and auditory stimuli, the film jumps rapidly from topic to topic, which leaves viewers with mere seconds for analysis and reflection before the film shifts its focus to examine another dimension of anabolic steroid use. The film showcases the history of doping in sport, medical uses of steroids, societal reactions to athletes who break doping rules, the unregulated supplement industry, Major League Baseball’s steroid era following the 1994 strike, Victor Conte and the BALCO scandal, doping and drug testing at the Olympic games, laws surrounding steroid use, and the ease of obtaining steroids in the United [End Page 298] States. Other topics discussed in the film include the use of anabolic steroids in the fitness modeling and diet industries; performance-enhancing drug use among musicians, U.S. fighter pilots, and in the pornography industry; body image and self esteem; genetic engineering; and the Taylor Hooton Foundation, among others. The film broaches the complex question of why some performance-enhancing drugs and methods, such as EPO and blood doping, are banned while others that produce similar physiological effects, such as sleeping in altitude chambers, are permitted. However, due to the rapid pacing of the film, Bell does not delve beneath the surface of the arguments either for or against the use of various ergogenic aids before moving on to the next topic.
The film succeeds in illustrating the many attitudes toward anabolic steroid use that have emerged in American society since anabolic steroids were introduced to strength athletes in the 1950s. The film’s forte lies in its ability to personalize the issue of steroid use, which makes it difficult for viewers to demonize “users.” The range of positions presented in the film, from the staunch anti-doping stances of several politicians...