Wednesday, May 21, 2008


The subtitle of Christopher Bell's feature documentary exploring issue of performing enhancing drugs in our society is "The side effects of being American." Bell hypothesizes that our country's obsession with winning is the root of the evil known as "steroids." From the press release on the film:

In America, we define ourselves in the superlative: we are the biggest, strongest, fastest country in the world. We reward speed, size and above all else: winning – at sport, at business and at war. Metaphorically we are a nation on steroids. Is it any wonder that so many of our heroes are on performance enhancing drugs?

It's a good point--and Bell makes it with a film that is both personal and topical, informative and entertaining--and ultimately thought-provoking. Bell's initial assessment is that steroids are bad--if not for the physical risks, then at the very least they are "cheating." But he struggles with the issue for a very personal reason: both his older brother and his younger brother are on the "juice." The documentary is his exploration of the influences which created the monster: WWE, superheroes, action heroes such as Rocky and Rambo, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

We get both sides of the issue--those who cite the negative side effects of the drugs vs. those who point out that deaths due to steroids are largely non-existent. Bell explores other arenas in which performance enhancing drugs are used legally and ethically: students taking Adderall to help with concentration, musicians overcoming anxiety with beta-blockers and a porn actor who injects his penis with Viagra. One of the funniest moments in the film is when he posits to the porn star the moral implications of "performance enhancement," to which the actor replies that he works in the PORN industry and morals aren't a big issue.

The film wends its way through the medical, political and cultural topics associated with the issue. At times it seems it could have benefited from a bit more focus and a little judicious editing--re: Shorter, Deeper, Quicker. Overall, however, Bell succeeds in not only exploring an explosive issue, but putting a human face on it as well. Although it would appear that he leaves with the same mindset that he started off with--steroids equals cheating--he presents a balanced enough discussion of the issue to leave the viewer re-evaluating their position.

BIGGER, STRONGER, FASTER* opens on May 30th in New York and Los Angeles and expands into other markets beginning in June. It's definitely an entertaining and eye-opening experience. Check it out!

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