Bigger, Stronger, Faster*
Opening in select cities this weekend and expanding to more cities throughout the month, Bigger, Stronger, Faster* looks to be a must-watch documentary that explores America’s (sometimes tragic) sporting ethos of winning… at all costs. The movie’s summary:
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?
From the producers of Bowling For Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11 comes a new film that unflinchingly explores our win-at-all-cost culture through the lens of a personal journey. Blending comedy and pathos, BIGGER, STRONGER, FASTER* is a collision of pop culture, animated sequences and first-person narrative, with a diverse cast including US Congressmen, professional athletes, medical experts and everyday gym rats.
At its heart, this is the story of director Christopher Bell and his two brothers, who grew up idolizing muscular giants like Hulk Hogan, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and who went on to become members of the steroid-subculture in an effort to realize their American dream. When you discover that your heroes have all broken the rules, do you follow the rules, or do you follow your heroes?
Bigger, Stronger, Faster* (BSF*) promises to elevate the level of discussion about steroids and has a 100% Fresh rating on rottentomatoes.com. Some select quotes from the critics:
“Easily one of the best documentaries of the year.”
“Bell’s film is not only captivating and entertaining, it takes an American subculture and turns our general understanding of it on its head.”
“…manages to be two films at once: One is an informative portrait of a power-hungry society; the other is an intensely gripping narrative of personal growth.”
“Bell’s debut feature addresses its subject with both humor and intelligence, approaching the issue of performance enhancement from every conceivable angle.” [Source.]
An excerpt from Stephen Holden’s review in the NYT:
How do you reconcile the imperative drilled into children by parents, teachers and the news media that winning is everything with the increasingly quaint moral injunctions to play fair, exercise good sportsmanship and do the right thing? If your childhood idols are preening supermen like Hulk Hogan and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who preached clean living but revealed their own reliance on steroids, which path are you likely to follow?
The movie ponders the question of what constitutes cheating when you look objectively at the role of medicine in competitive sport. Is it cheating for a bicycle racer to pump more oxygen into his system by sleeping in a high-altitude chamber? Has Tiger Woods’s Lasik eye surgery given him an unfair competitive advantage? The lines between cheating and fair play, the movie suggests, are hazy to the point of being arbitrary. Pharmaceutical enhancement extends even to the sedate world of classical music, in which musicians susceptible to stage fright consume beta blockers to keep them calm.
American culture’s embrace of steroids, or at least benign neglect about responding to the proliferation of cheating and use of performance enhancing drugs in sport, is a curious phenomenon. It was not all that long ago when we looked to the doped-up Soviet athletes in the Olympics from the 1950s to early ’80s with indignation and smug pride. They were products of science, freaks, machines. Our athletes were natural. Real. Steroids were un-American, as Senator Joseph Biden is heard to say in BSF*.
Or, asks Stephen Holden, “are [steroids] as American as apple pie?” Is it cheating if everybody does it?