Drugs are bad, mmmkay? Well, not all of them, argues Chris Bell in his documentary Bigger, Stronger, Faster*. And no, this isn't an argument for pot, but rather a drug that we just don't think much about -- anabolic steroids. With this film, director and bodybuilder Bell
breaks the stereotype of the gym-rat meathead by making intelligent, astute observations and revealing some shocking truths about this mysterious and taboo drug.
Bell is what one would call a moralist: He admits that in the beginning, he was against taking anabolic steroids; he considered it "immoral" and cheating. But both his brothers have been taking steroids since they were children, and they've since surpassed Bell in strength. And they both appear to be perfectly healthy. So what gives? Is this drug truly dangerous? It's clear that Bell made this documentary to explore his curiosity about not only the drug but also the difference between his brothers' and his own perceptions of morality. Article continues below
In a way, Bell has "cheated" by breaking a traditional rule: In journalism, interviewing your own family members epitomizes a conflict of interest. But Bell gets away with cheating because his family members are the perfect sources for this topic; being close to them sends Bell down the right path to valuable, hidden information. This probably wasn't intended, but Bell's cheating artistically supports the thesis of the film. That is, are steroids bad, and is taking them cheating? And if it is, then isn't America -- a nation that does whatever it can to gain an edge -- a nation of cheaters? Ultimately, is cheating wrong if we're all doing it?
It's certainly an intriguing set of questions, which Bell poses to a large variety of credible sources, from an exercise health specialist to a health magazine editor and a congressman. There's a blatant bias in the film, but the argument being made isn't simply "Steroids aren't bad." Rather, the documentary shows that little-next to no research has been conducted to prove steroids are detrimental to one's health. The film shouldn't influence you to go try steroids, but it encourages you to remain skeptical about what's reported in the media and to do your own research.
With Faster, Bell accomplishes something most independent documentary filmmakers struggle with: He keeps the film pumped on interesting, at times hilarious, visuals while providing a barrage of information. He shows clips of our American heroes Sylvester Stallone
and Arnold Schwarzenegger, videos of Bell and his brothers in weight-lifting competitions, TV interviews with famous athletes, and so forth. Thanks to the visuals and the pacing, there's hardly a dry moment; Bell's film snowballs and just gets bigger, stronger, and faster.
Faster is Bell's second film. (His first film, Billy Jones, was about a 12-year-old addicted to cigarettes.) This young, talented filmmaker has as much muscle as he has heart and brains. It'll be great to see how much weight he can handle with his next big project.