[The Bell Brothers, Mike, Chris and Mark]
Although not totally focussed on Pro Wrestling, former WWE creative writer Chris Bell’s Bigger Stronger Faster, steroid documentary does have a lot of references to the sport, and as we know steroids are a very real part of our beloved form of entertainment – that is why I chose to review it here on the site. If several wrestlers including John Cena and Triple H said they loved it, I had to check it out.
There are two problems for me before we begin. Firstly I’m not American, but from England so I am not privy to every day US news coverage or politics about steroids. Secondly I never lived in the 1980′s and therefore have no first hand knowledge of these larger than life film superheroes such as Arnold or Stallone and cannot express how they affected me as a child or my country – since I was neither born nor in the country. That being said I am very aware about steroids in Pro Wrestling and how they’ve been portrayed in the Benoit tragedy and am very interested in bodybuilding myself, so let the review commence.
Like all documentaries, being a student of Media I am very skeptical and can pick up obvious “worked” aspects of the piece that were probably discussed and rehearsed beforehand for added drama etc, but that’s the creative freedom we give “actuality” filmmakers and Bell comes across as very truthful and fair, without showing bias for or against steroids, despite his personal and family ties to the drug. Overall steroids don’t come across as bad as the media would have you believe, but that’s not through any bias on the documentary’s part.
The film starts off with Bell recounting his childhood in 1984 with a montage of clips where he sets the scene of Regan being president and there being trouble in Iran – “this day changed my life forever.” It cuts to the WWF and a video of Iron Sheik taking on Hulk Hogan. “Regan may have freed the hostages, but the Sheik still had the belt!….There was only one man that could save us.” Hulk Hogan! Like an excited child he recites the match and Hulk’s victory. “You don’t mess with Hulk Hogan and you certainly don’t mess with America!” What follows is a series of clips from famous movies involving the likes of Arnie and Sylvester, which wouldn’t look out of place in the “Team America” satire. Big guns, lots of baddies and a message that America owns. Did Regan really make a speech saying “in the spirit of Rambo we’re going to win this time?” Bell paints a perfect picture of America being a big dominant ass kicking country.
Little Chris Bell, his overweight brother Mike and his not so bright brother Mark didn’t look up to their Dad, but looked up to the action stars from the movies and to Hulk Hogan, who preached about training hard and taking your vitamins. They figured if they worked at it, did everything right and lived by what was preached, they’d get huge physiques, respect and fame. Well that got them through high school, but it was all one big fat lie. These larger than life superheroes in wrestling, movies and even portrayed by government and sports teams were frauds. They were all just on steroids!
Although he was a standout in school, all Chris has to show for it is a gym membership and his brother Mike is desperately clinging on to making it as a wrestler.
This film does a great job of showing America in the way a lot of us Brits see it. It’s all about Bigger is Better and winning is everything, whilst our outlook is more “it’s the taking part that counts.” It’s always amazed me the emphasis American schools have on sports and being the best. We had one Physical Education lesson a week with an on and off soccer team that only took place after school, whilst in the US they have almost full sized freaking arenas in schools where they sellout with local supporters and the 16 year olds look like they are 20 because they are so beefy. Mind boggling.
The movie shows that from a young age Chris and his brothers were forced to take in this idea that they had to succeed and be heroes, ultimately leading to steroid taking and depression. The site of one man Paul, who had his hey day training in Golds Gym with the stars and appearing in movie “Over the Top” due to his physique is saddening, now that he lives in his van in the car park of a gym still trying to make it to the top and hold on to the little fame he had. The Bell brothers soon learned that wrestling was fake, the stars were on steroids and the world was a generally worse place than when they were younger. So to make it they needed steroids. Everybody else was doing it.
The emotional side of taking performance enhancing drugs is dealt with extensively, whether it’s the Bell Brother’s upset mother asking “why do my boys feel like they’re never good enough?…God made you the way you are,” or one of the sibling’s suicide attempt as he failed to make it to the WWF, to the other brother that has a wife and kid to think of whilst he takes steroids for power lifting competitions. Whether they are good or bad and the media’s uneducated portrayal is all covered, but another interesting part is the actual health problems. Are steroids actually that bad?
There were several doctors, bodybuilders, a politician and a bereaving father who’s son committed suicide whilst on steroids that were interviewed. All had different views. One person said steroids are great for a speedy recovery, people with aids and burns victims, whilst another claims steroids cause strokes, heart problems, depression and so on. It seems nobody clearly knows the facts about the drug and the alarming point was made that because steroids are illegal, nobody has ever done any proper research in to them. So there is no real data either way, just theories, beliefs and the biased views of bodybuilders or the uneducated media.
According to data shown in the documentary, direct use of steroids had only killed 3 people that year (they don’t say in what way), whereas Alcohol and Tobacco, which are legal, cause tens of thousands of deaths every year. The reason the drugs were banned in the first place was to stop cheaters in the Olympics, not because of negative health effects. US Congress spent more time talking and going through proceedings in regards to drugs in sports and baseball than they did dealing with the war in Iraq or anything else.
Proven bad side effects may include (everybody is different like all drugs) hair growth, testicular shrinkage (not the actual penis), acne, “man boobs” and high cholesterol. And the “Roid Rage” myth is said to only affect about 5% of people.
The film also explores what we call in wrestling “mark doctors,” who are willing to prescribe drugs like testosterone etc when it is not really needed, or it might be needed but is being used for the wrong purposes. It’s a long hassling process, but means you can get steroids or drugs that give the effect of steroids medically and legally. Alternatives methods are shown, including buying them online or visiting Mexico where steroids are legal.
Although steroids are a main part of the movie, it also touches on the morality of using other drugs to enhance performance in sports and non sports related fields. It touches on Adarol, a stimulant used by students to concentrate and boost performance in examinations, beta blockers used by musicians to calm nerves and prevent stage fright and the use of viagra in porn. Did you know Tiger Woods had laser eye surgery to make his vision better than an average person? Why is that not cheating? How do you feel about the military putting soldiers on drugs to stay awake and focussed, despite a pair from the air force getting too trigger happy because they’re reactions were stimulated by drugs?
There is also the hypocritical stance of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who became famous through taking steroids and is now Governor of California, preaching not to use performance enhancers. How can Arnie encourage children to exercise properly then go and host a bodybuilding show where drugs aren’t tested for?
Morality is a constant theme as the documentary uncovers the seedy and contrived “backstage area” if you will, of the supplements industry, such as your protein powders and how supplements have to be proved unsafe not useless. Bell spends a day making bright blue pills full of not a whole lot, which he could have easily sold and marketed with a few photoshopped before and after pictures.
I personally came away from this feeling confused and thinking that the system is terribly flawed at every stage from government to doctors and real time needs to be taken studying the benefits of steroids and how they are regulated. We let people drink and smoke, yet we stop them from using other drugs with comparable negatives. It’s a strange world and this film will open your eyes, making you reconsider what cheating and personal choice really is. I don’t know what to think anymore!
Call it “Super Size Me” with Steroids or “An Inconvenient Truth” about performance enhancers, this film is just as interesting as the blockbuster documentaries and will definitely entertain you with freaky muscle clad men and women if nothing else.
Bigger Strong Faster – the side effects of being American, in Theaters now!
Directed by Christopher Bell. Written by Bell, Alex Buono, Tamsin Rawady.
Mark “Smelly” Bell, Mike “Mad Dog” Bell, Rosemary Bell, Sheldon Bell, Christian Boeving, Barry Bonds, Wade Exum, Donald Hooton, Ben Johnson, Floyd Landis, Carl Lewis, John Romano, Jeff Taylor, Gregg Valentino, Gary Wadler.
Category: Reviews, Wrestling News |