Bigger, Stronger, Faster
Photos and Video
It has dominated news cycles for the last several years, leading to both criminal and congressional investigations. The people involved are some of the most influential in our culture, and the issue has led to regular tabloid headlines and hours of media attention. With a presidential election on the horizon, two wars raging, and a crumbling economy, one story continued to dominate the public's attention for much of the young 21st century: anabolic steroid use in athletics! Christopher Bell's highly entertaining and deeply informative documentary shines the brightest light yet on the issue, and he does so in amazingly non-judgmental fashion. Growing up in a family with a history of weight issues, Bell and his two brothers all found themselves captivated by professional wrestlers like Hulk Hogan, who in the '80s urged the throngs of young America boys who admired him to take their vitamins. But as those same boys grew older, they learned that vitamins were not enough. Like so many others looking to slim down or bulk up, Bell's brothers have both taken steroids for years. The miracle of Bigger, Stronger, Faster is not Bell's low-key investigative reporting but rather his ability to convince the audience-without preaching-that the argument over steroids is neither easy nor cutand- dried. The demonization of these drugs is at best questionable scapegoating and at worst ultimate hypocrisy. Bell also closely examines why we as a nation feel compelled to be the best, and how that societal ideology leads to body image and athletic prowess issues as damaging to adolescent boys as the oft-discussed "thin-is-in" mentality young girls espouse from fashion models. Educational and often quite funny, Bigger, Stronger, Faster engages its audience not just while it's playing, but also long after it has ended.
Director's Statement Collapse
In 2004, Senator Joe Biden testified before a congressional hearing on steroids that the use of performance enhancing drugs by athletes is “simply un-American.” Hey, hold on a second. I've tried steroids, and my two brothers still use them today. Is Senator Biden right? Are steroids un-American? Are the Bell brothers the bad guys? For a country that seems obsessed with being the best at everything, how can the choice of an athlete to enhance his own performance be un-American? These are the big questions that motivated me to make a film about the use of performance-enhancing drugs in American culture.
I grew up worshiping Arnold, The Hulkster, and Stallone. I wanted to “crush the enemy,” “hang and bang at Gold's Gym,” and tell Adrian “I did it!” But what I didn't know was that all of my heroes used steroids to get to where they are. When I eventually found out, I'd like to say that I was fine with it, but I wasn't. I was really disappointed, and then my disappointment turned to wonder: Is that what it takes to be an American hero? Is that what I need to do? I have been struggling with the choice to take steroids ever since. I tried them once, but I felt guilty and had to stop. Why do I find them immoral, and yet both of my brothers made the other choice?
In 1988, the same year that Ben Johnson was stripped of his gold medal at the Seoul Olympics, my older brother Mad Dog became the only student in the history of our high school to go on to play division one football when he started at the University of Cincinnati. We were so proud of him. And literally one week after arriving at training camp, he started taking steroids.
My younger brother Smelly started taking steroids while trying to get a professional wrestling contract with the WWE. One of his best friends was John Cena, the WWE World Champ, and he outweighed Smelly by about 40 pounds. If Smelly was going to make it as a pro wrestler, he had to get on the “juice.”
Turning the camera on my own family was a lot harder than I thought it would be. I don't think we'll ever be the same, but I also don't think we've ever been closer. This film forced us all to discuss an issue that nobody in America wants to talk honestly about. Many families struggle with issues like alcoholism, drug abuse, depression. . . my family's battle just happens to be with steroids. For the past 20 years, my brothers and I have been fighting our genetics, obsessing over what we eat, how we train, and what we're doing with our lives. Guys like us are sticking needles in their butts for the same reason young girls are sticking their fingers down their throats. Pop culture has convinced us that we're just not good enough. My brothers and I needed to find a way to become bigger, stronger, and faster—and we did, but at what cost?
I also wanted to find a context for steroids—what does the use of steroids by so many of our heroes say about ethics in our culture? Is this a problem unique to the athletes and gym rats, or is it a sign of a much bigger issue? With a USC film school education and 20 years in the gym, I hoped to make a comprehensive, fully researched, and honest film about a topic that affects my brothers and me every single day. I'm just a kid from Poughkeepsie who likes to lift weights and make movies. Bigger, Stronger, Faster* is the best of both worlds for me.
Film Information Collapse
Cast & Credits Collapse
Producers Alex Brono, Jim Czarnecki
About the Director(s)Collapse
Christopher Bell grew up in Poughkeepsie, where his relationships with both filmmaking and weight lifting began in his teens. While in high school, he directed a music video that won the Sony/AFI Visions of US award. Juror Francis Ford Coppola recommended Chris to the USC School of Cinema-Television, where he graduated in 1995. He then wrote, directed, and produced the short Billy Jones. As he won festival awards he also won bench-press competitions, and his two passions led him to a position as a producer and writer for World Wrestling Entertainment. Bigger, Strong, Faster is Bell's first documentary feature.