Bigger, Stronger, Faster
Now Showing at: Esquire Theatre.
Review by: Larry Thomas
Growing up in Poughkeepsie, New York, Chris Bell and his brothers Mike and Mark were basically three pudgy kids with no particular direction in life. Until, that is, they discovered muscles, through exposure to Hulk Hogan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Sylvester Stallone. They became students of bulking up, a big asset for high school football. After graduation, they wanted more… and that eventually led to steroid use.
The new documentary Bigger, Stronger, Faster: The Side-Effects of Being American brings us behind the scenes of bodybuilding, pro wrestling, muscle guy movies and more. Chris gave up steroids, and any dreams of a career related to sports. He went to film school, and is the director, host, and narrator of this film. He turns the camera on his family, which in addition to Mike and Mark includes their parents Rosemary and Sheldon.
Mike Bell came to the University of Cincinnati to play football for the Bearcats, but couldn’t make it without steroids. So he dumped college, and got a low-level job with the World Wrestling Federation. He was one of the guys they pay the short-end money to get beat up by the stars. He’s now an accountant, but still wants to resurrect his wrestling personae in some form.
Mark, also known as “Smelly,” is still doing power weight lifting, although he also has a wife and young son, and is very much the family man.
Mike and Mark still use steroids. And that’s the sad fact of Bigger, Stronger, Faster. Steroids are drugs, and people keep using them. Not to anyone’s surprise, they are used in every form of sports activity, as interviews with Olympic athletes and other sports figures illustrate. In the category of “two wrongs equal one right…or success…”, most of those seen on screen say that technically it’s cheating to use steroids, but everyone does it, so they don’t want to be left behind.
There’s lots of interesting archival and news footage about the subject, but the strength of this film comes from The Bell Brothers themselves. Who they are; what they do; why they do it; and what do they expect to achieve. It’s one thing to be a subject for a documentary filmmaker, but when the man behind the camera is your brother, it takes on a completely different feeling than if talking to a stranger.
Given the competitive nature of Americans, the viewer is left with the feeling that there may be no stopping point for performance enhancement drugs. What’s crossing the line? Little league? Peewee football? Soccer leagues? Quite often, excelling is equated with excess.
Bigger, Stronger, Faster: The Side-Effects of Being American is a clear, hard look at one of our many obsessions, told straight on by those who have, and still are, experiencing life on steroids. It’s one of the best documentaries of the year.