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The post by reviewer "Melkmail" that this movie is "a pro steroid
message disguised as an unbiased expose" is quite interesting, and I
would agree with him that this film is not the masterpiece of
objectivity which some people claim it to be. What I would say is that
you will hear some pro-steroid views expressed which might not agree
with what you are normally used to hearing about those chemicals. Among
other things, Chris Bell has drawn a comparison between the
over-the-top anti-marijuana ads of yesteryear (e.g. "Reefer Madness")
and the anti-steroid views of the present day. I certainly doubt that
those two campaigns are comparable. Similarly, the film points out that
steroids have achieved wonderful results in treating illness and
injury, as if that in the slightest way mitigates the alleged damage
caused by steroid abuse. I don't know about you, but I would hardly be
encouraged to take steroids just because someone told me that my
testicles would return to normal size after I stopped using steroids.
What is also very interesting about "Bigger, Stronger, Faster" is that the persons interviewed on both sides of the steroid question are not exactly portrayed as "normal." In the interview with Congressman Henry Waxman is edited to depict him as a bit of a flake who does not have a grasp of details or facts. Likewise, those segments in which anti-steroid physician Dr. Gary Wadler is interviewed make him look a bit of a charlatan. Those two men were shown in the worst possible light, and I believe that documentary maker Chris Bell did this deliberately. So much for objectivity.
However, the body-builders, athletes, and coaches who openly advocate steroid use come off no better. It may not have been Bell's intention, but almost all of those pro-steroid folks strike one as a bit abnormal, and a couple of them even appear to be in need of serious psychological help. Is that what long-time steroid use does to a person? There are women who look and talk like men, and men who are almost as wide as they are tall.
Even knowing that those physical results have been achieved with the aid of anabolic steroids it's obvious that all those people have still put in tremendous amounts of hard work to be able to achieve the physical appearance and strength that they have; but the end result for many of them is an freakish appearance that might be more expected from one of Dr. Mengele's monstrous experiments.
The most sensible person in the whole film is Chris Bell's father Sheldon who has seen the effect of steroids use in his own family. He and his wife Rosemary both deserve a lot of credit for permitting themselves to be interviewed in the film.
What is especially shocking about the film, though, is not steroid use, per se. Rather, it is the openly expressed view among steroid advocates that because "everyone does it" they are going to do it, too. The do-gooders in this film may be depicted in a deliberately poor light, but the steroid advocates come across as having absolutely no moral compass. They openly and proudly advocate cheating in sport because their competitors cheat. So, this is what sport has become in America and around the world - a competition among cheaters. Kind of makes you wonder how these people can look at their wide, bloated faces in the mirror each morning.
My background is such that I've met some of the people in this film,
and have substantial experience with the world of bodybuilding. My
academic background is in the sciences, and this is a topic I have
researched to death.
This film takes an honest view at steroids, and more importantly at the attitudes that push people towards altering "what god gave them". If anything it should make people realize the problem isn't a single class of drugs that has been sensationalized, but a growing problem of body dimorphism. It is self worth, and self-esteem in a bottle. And there is nothing "biased towards steroids" about that message. If anything it is simply one of several performance enhancement methods he demonstrates.
I know to many the movie seems biased. But to anyone who has done the research, it isn't so much this movie is biased as the media depiction of these drugs is as ridiculous as the media's depiction of marijuana in "Reefer Madness". People are so bombarded with misinformation about drugs in general in America, that when they are shown something honest, it rocks their point of reference and they feel it is biased.
What this documentary is, is eye opening, honest, and very complete in it's presentation. More so then any other documentary I've seen on the topic.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
***SPOLIERS *** I have serious problems with this documentary. I feel
strongly that the set up, namely that the narrator/protagonist sort of
was against steroids when he began his "research" and then was giving
it the big thumbs up by film's end, is not especially true. This film
has the distinct feel of a pre-conceived opinion and then fitting the
so called facts to support that. Hey I am guilty of sometimes liking
films that may have done the same if it's an argument I agree with. I
am not taking some high moral ground. I am just questioning the
The film is pretty well made. There are some facts and a few "things that made me go hmmm," if you will. It was produced and edited well. But this film is clearly pro-steroids. The only anti-steroids point that was clearly stated, oddly, was that on average people who take steroids are losers. Not because they are hurting themselves or cheating but because the mentality of steroid takers tends to be of underachieving dreamers. OK interesting point, even at the expense of the two brothers of the narrator. I suppose the narrator thinks he is better than his brothers because he is a film maker. Well, actually maybe he has a point.
The film tends to not say anything positive about steroids. It is just a litany of arguments against the arguments against steroids (intentional double negative there). Are they bad for you it asks? Not as bad as people claim. But really, are they bad for you? Well so are lots of other things. Is it cheating to use them? Well people cheat lots of ways Do the people who go on against steroids have a case? No they have an agenda. Etc, etc, etc.
I mean this film seriously makes some arguments that are so shallow and off the point it is a bit pathetic. And in the failing attempt to be "fair and balanced" they do have some anti-steroid people show up and give an opinion but the ratio of screen time is not even close to 50/50. Plus they make dismissive comments about these people. When introducing the anti-steroid expert they quickly point out he is probably just a guy who wants to make a buck because he is the TV industries "go to guy."
In the end of the movie a speech is given and it honestly makes the point that steroids are American. Americans are winners, so winners take steroids. I kid you not, they even flash a picture of Al Gore when they mention losers.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
From the comments on the official page for this movie: "I am a
Health/PE Teacher in Cameron, WV and viewed the film with my Strength
and Conditioning Class. They loved it! It was extremely thought
provoking and brought a new thinking to performance enhancement. The
film was well done and showed both sides of this provocative subject. I
hope that eventually people start to see that if taken properly that in
no way should these drugs be classified in the same areas as cocaine
and marijuana. Job well done!" Did you catch that? This mockumentary is
being peddled to children in school to bring "new thinking to
performance enhancement" by a "teacher" who obviously thinks that
steroids have been given a bad rap.
Well, that IS exactly what the filmmaker said he wanted when it premiered - to peddle it to children in schools from grammar school on up.
The film states that because an AIDS patient with wasting needed steroids (already readily available to someone receiving medical treatment for real illness to begin with), it's no big deal for any perfectly HEALTHY male, at ANY age, to use them also. He continuously shows bottles of SYNTHETIC injectable hormones and talks about how "natural" it is to inject them into a body that is already producing normal testosterone levels as nature intended.
What injecting testosterone does, most simply, is this: it causes your body to stop producing its own testosterone (Mr. Bell continuously harps on how it's "reversible", as if to justify doing it to begin with). Regardless of whether temporary or permanent, how on earth could any "responsible" adult, whether a filmmaker or a doting fan who happens to be a TEACHER, be peddling a message to children encouraging them to shut down their own natural testosterone production and switch over to dependence on a synthetic source, for ANY reason or ANY length of time?
The guy starts the film out saying his body dysmorphia is a problem. Then by the end of the film he's playing rousing upbeat music and showing images that show his body image and lifestyle is red-blooded American and just great. Considering body dysmorphia is this in men and anorexia in women, I can't imagine how a film by a skeletal anorexic woman would start off with her stating she has a problem and then not being expected to DEAL with and hopefully FIX it somewhere along the line. If there were an equivalent, every young girl would be CONVINCED to starve themselves by the time the credits rolled. Nowhere in this does Chris Bell go to a therapist. By the end he's happily scratching his itch, his addiction to overtraining and poor self-image. There are so many mixed messages this guy doesn't know which end is up, and yet nearly every reviewer says it's the "truth"? Which "truth" exactly, since this guy was too thoroughly conflicted to even know who he was. Despite his own confusion, the filmmaker has had no problems shooting down dissenting anti-steroid opinions in other forums, in much the same way that he HARD SELLS a PRO-STEROID message nonstop in this film. How could there possibly even be a discussion as to whether this is pro-steroid or not? Do people watching it not have EYES???
People always forget that everything is cyclical, while we rush to and then away from one boom and bubble and fad after another. People so easily forget that one minute we'll have some study telling us that some new supplement or habit or diet is great for us, then another study a few years later will tell us how those same things have been killing us in droves. I wonder if Chris Bell will have even a moment of guilt when years after this "positive" film has been all the impetus that was needed to push some impressionable child or weak minded adult already thinking about juicing into doing it, we find out that in fact it really WASN'T a good idea to inject something into your body that isn't NECESSARY - for not only the user but everyone around him.
As a few other users have pointed out, the anti-steroid voices in this film were presented with mocking responses, music, footage, etc, as opposed to the pro-steroid voices. If that really seems "unbiased", then go ahead and soak this film in without rational thought. It seems that most have.
If Chris Bell succeeds in taking a pro-steroid message to children sitting in school while their parents have no idea what they're "learning", he'll also succeed at this: spreading the anguish of his own parents to the parents of every child. If THAT was the true purpose of BSF, then it's a rousing success. I doubt sincerely that the simplistic logic of children (especially with the obvious bias of the "teacher" above) is going to be sufficient for them to walk away from seeing this being convinced to not juice or have a positive body image (of the one nature, not science, gave them). Chances are the CHILDREN that are going to see this fun, colorful, and extremely irresponsible film are going to walk away from it thinking they've received NO negative message.
Would you want YOUR kid to be in that strength/conditioning class in Cameron WV? I personally wouldn't want a film touting the health benefits of prescription drugs of ANY sort being marketed to my perfectly healthy kid behind my back, but maybe I'm alone in that. It seems we can't educate kids on how to be responsible with birth control during school hours, but we can teach them how to juice, shrink their testicles while they're still growing, unnaturally grow the bones in the forehead and face, and all the other freakish side effects of synthetic testosterone replacement.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The crux of this doc is squarely on the perceived notions of what
steroids do to an individual. I dare anybody to refute the fact that
there are too many unknowns concerning steroids. This doc states that
the side effects of steroids are reversible once steroids are stopped.
True, but what isn't mentioned is the wasting of muscle tissue that
breaks down into ketones. Unless a vigorous exercise ritual is
maintained, then muscle mass dissipates into fatty bulk. This is what
leads to heart problems.
Getting back to the film, it masterfully illustrates the hypnotic influence wrestling had on so many young boys; myself included. When I went to the Army, I worked my rear off to look like Brutus the Barber Beefcake. It never happened, but my ego was never bruised because of it. The "side effects of being American" don't come from the steroid culture. They come from a childhood of being told that we can do or become anything we want to be. Think about how different childhood would be if we were told exactly what our function would be at an early age. So much time otherwise spent dreaming of irrational careers could be spent preparing for an inevitable livelihood. That is not to say that people are their jobs. So much time could be spent enjoying the personal aspects of our lives rather than spending 20 plus years exploring how we make a living.
I took 15 different anabolic steroids, oral and injectable, the original human growth hormone, and HCG during my four years of anabolic use in the early 80s as a competitive powerlifter, bodybuilder, and college baseball and hockey player...but now I'm a school teacher with a master's in math, so I'm not a total blockhead. I learned about 'roids from the best (Dr. James Wright, who did steroid research for the US Army), was involved in the drug trade with the best (England's Tony Fitton), and have been the subject of numerous studies, print stories, books, and shows (Time, Harvard University, Boston Museum of Science, Nightline to name a very few). That being noted, this was easily the most honest, straightforward and truthful program I've ever witnessed about anabolics - and that includes all the stuff I've been involved in. Those who don't agree simply don't have the experience to realize that, so it's not really their fault, they are just consumed with personal opinion and bias based on little to no first-hand knowledge and the misdirected media. Throw everything else in the trash, this show is the best.
I just recently saw this film at Sundance Film Festival. I loved it. It was the best of the three documentary competition movies I was able to watch. Chris Bell does an amazing job taking an intimate, honest look at American culture and Steroid use. He essentially sets up himself and his family as a case study for his movie. He looks at himself and his family in an honest, open, and introspective manner. He causes the viewer to reevaluate their pre-conceived notions of steroid use and American values. His investigations on the subject include interviews with experts including his own mother and Olympic greats Carl Lewis and Ben Johnson. It is thought provoking, clever, and insightful, all while remaining objective. All things that define a great documentary in my book.
Finally an honest look into the steroid world. These days in order to
compete with your peers/teammates, you almost have to take some sort of
performance enhancing drugs. If you don't, you'll fall behind. Standard
case of "keeping up with the Jones's". I feel it is very obvious to the
world and sports fans that this is going on, but NO ONE is honest about
it! And when one guy gets busted, he's looked down upon and singled
out. Not fair to single them out and criticize when everyone else on
the team is doing it.
This doc doesn't really detail team sports, but it is still the same concept. You finally get a good look into this world and a good look into why people do these types of drugs. Very informative, well done documentary. I am so glad to have seen it, and for anyone curious, it's worth watching.
Like many men his age, growing up Chris Bell idolized the muscle stars
of the 80s like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and Hulk
Hogan. He dreamed of becoming a professional bodybuilder and working
out at Gold's Gym with his heroes. He was devastated, therefore, when
he realized these men were juiced up and that their message was
fraudulent. Chris reluctantly accepted that to truly compete in the
sport he loved he would have to turn to steroids and ultimately
rejected the drugs. His brothers, Mike and Mark, couldn't make the same
choice. "Bigger, Stronger, Faster" explores the controversy that is the
steroid industry and the American obsession with being just what the
film's title describes.
"BSF" is what you would call a balanced documentary, or to purists, a "true" documentary. Chris explores both sides of the argument over steroids and does his best to leave the final decision of whether or not steroids have been overly vilified up to the audience. There is a certain amount of reluctance to the narrative that Chris provides and you can sense the conflict within himself as he takes us through this journey. On the one hand, he believes the drugs to be morally wrong. On the other, he knows he can't compete without them and proponents of steroids (featured prominently throughout "BSF") make a compelling case for their usage. Chris is a human face for the battle against steroids, a sympathetic figure who really sums up the issues that so many athletes face these days.
Unlike some of the reviews I've read, "BSF" is NOT a pro-steroid documentary. Those who would push for the legalization of the juice are given an opportunity to express their beliefs and discuss the scientific tests that would support their assertions. But I found this to be more in the interest of the aforementioned balance rather than portions of a propaganda piece for 'roids. The classic side effects of steroids (acne, uncontrollable anger, loss of fertility, etc.) are not only discussed but clearly displayed by the drug's defenders even as they argue against these afflictions. When Chris quietly challenges some of the assertions of anti-steroid campaigners, notably Congressman Henry Waxman, it is done with respect and genuine interest in the factual basis for some of the widely-held beliefs about steroids. Through these questions, Chris shows that the issue of just how destructive these drugs are is not as clear-cut as we tend to think. Whether right or wrong, you can find studies that will support your claims either way.
Chris brings the point home, however, when he turns the camera on his own family as he peers into the lives of his brothers, both of who use steroids regularly and both of whom have been negatively impacted by their habits. It is a truly compelling moment when Chris' dad tells him point-blank that he expects Mike to turn up dead sooner rather than later. It's even more hard-hitting when you know that just a few months after the filming of "Bigger, Stronger, Faster", Mike did die at the age of 37. A longtime steroid user who would have done anything to break into the world of big time wrestling, Mike's early demise serves as this documentary's lasting impact and perhaps the final point to swing the balance of the film's debate.
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Normally, I would probably avoid this film if it dealt exclusively with the world of sports. This,however isn't the case. It deals with another realm of drug abuse:the use of steroids by athletes. For far too long now,drug abuse has been pretty much narrowed down to illegal street drugs (Heroin,Cocaine,etc.) or prescription drugs (Darvon & what ever). Chris Bell tells the tale of himself & his two other brothers,raised in a good home with loving parents,that chooses to bulk up by using metabolic steroids (such as the kind that way too many athletes are/have been using for far too long). Bell tries to crack open the facade of just why people have to use these substances (which are generally prescribed to organ transplant patients). The film manages to (once again)mine the harbor of Michael Moore style gadfly (read that as muckraking)film making techniques (not that I'm saying that's bad---it's just getting a bit tiring,is all). There are some examples of steroid abuse that would probably make for a truly effective episode of 'Intervention' (has Ken Seeley,or anybody else on that program seen this documentary yet?)
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