I rarely talk about movies here (in fact the only other time I can think of was when I recommended Lipstick & Dynamite), but I watched a film last weekend that I thought would be of interest of the readers of this site.
The movie is a documentary called Bigger Stronger Faster* (2008). It deals with the use, abuse, and propaganda of steroids, while examining the root problem of why someone would want to take them. You can read the review from Roger Ebert (3.5 out of 4 stars) or IMDB (7.7 / 10) for a synopsis– I’ll just touch on a few more points below.
The film’s main characters are three brothers: Chris, Mark, and Mike Bell. Chris is the director, interviewer, and narrator. All three brothers had tried anabolic steroids, and two (Mark & Mike) were still on them at the time of the documentary. One of the motivations for them to give steroids a try were there heroes, including Hulk Hogan, Schwarzenegger, and Sylvester Stalone. All of whom would either admit to using steroids (Hogan and Schwarzenegger), or be caught with them in later life (Stallone with growth hormone).
All of the bodybuilders and professional athletes shown in interviews (like Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds, Olympian Ben Johnson) said they took performance enhancing substances because they had to– everyone else was doing them. That was one of the central themes of the movie. They didn’t do it to get ahead… they did it to keep up. To keep up with the idea that America has to be the biggest, strongest, and fastest country in the world.
On one hand we spend an extraordinary about of political and media attention on: steroids in the WWE, steroids in baseball, “roid rage” in the media (Chris Benoit), but at the same time we reward and admire those that are faster or larger than life and we look the other way. The U.S. Olympic Committee spends most of its time looking for loopholes for U.S. athletes to exploit (or they work with the officials to change the rules), according to one of the interviewees.
While everyone is focused on steroids, the supplement industry is pulling in over $27 billion dollars a year (PDF), and is virtually unregulated thanks to tons of legislation from Utah senator Orrin Hatch. Not coincidentally, about 10% of the supplement business resides in Utah.Which leads to shenanigans like the photographer who admitted that many of the “before and after” shots he has done for supplement companies were taken the same day, thanks to the use of lighting, makeup, and a bit of Photoshop. No rules against it, and everyone else is doing it so why can’t I?
The picture below was a set of shots the photographer took the same day to show how it is done. The six pack was airbrushed on. Not airbrushed on the image, but on the guy (Chris Bell).
For those of you that recognize the name Mike Bell, you may remember his work as a jobber for WWE and ECW. During the time of the documentary, he was still working the independents and sending tapes into the WWE. They kept telling him that he was “too old”.
Toward the end of the film there were very candid discussions of Mike Bell’s problems with drugs, and his inability to cope with not being a “success” in pro wrestling and life. His father said he was worried Mike was going to end up dead. Up until that point in the movie I had a feeling that there was something about the name Mike Bell that I couldn’t quite remember. After that line, I thought of it– Didn’t this guy end up dying?
After I watched the end of the film and didn’t see any mention in the credits, a minute with Google confirmed it. Mike Bell died a few months after the film came out (but possibly years after those scenes were filmed). The coroner eventually concluded it was from the “accidental” inhalation of a chemical used in a “household maintenance product”.
This documentary is definitely worth a rental (it’s also available on Instant Watch from Netflix). You don’t have to be a wrestling fan or a sports fan to enjoy it. The director does a great job of presenting the facts without taking sides. I would be surprised if you can watch this and not have your perspective change, regardless of what side of the discussion you started out on. It is definitely not black and white.