Chris Bell, director of "Bigger, Stronger, Faster*", which opened last week in San Francisco and other cities in the U.S.  The film continues to play in Los Angeles and New York and will expand it release in various cities across the U.S. over the next few weeks.  Mr. Bell is a former steroid user.  (Photo: Omar P.L. Moore/
Chris Bell, Bigger, Faster, Stronger and More Heroic Than The Average USC Trojan*

By Omar P.L. Moore/The Popcorn Reel

June 12, 2008


"We have the capability to rebuild him," or words to that effect, goes the certain-sounding voice-over of a famous 1970's television series.  The series' opening credits continue:

"Bigger.  Stronger.  Faster."

These words come from the opening of "The Six Million Dollar Man", starring Lee Majors as a man rebuilt after a severe accident as a bionic man.  In today's world, the equivalent of that amusing drama series is something not so funny or unbelievable: the long-running real-life soap opera that is steroids.  Most recently Roger Clemens, the future inevitable hall of fame baseball pitcher, had been accused of taking steroids to enhance his performance.  Barry Bonds, the all-time home run record holder in American baseball's Major Leagues has for years been suspected of steroid use while vigorously denying it.

The three words above are also the title of Chris Bell's new documentary feature film, except an asterisk is added to represent the following: The Side Effects of Being American.  "Bigger, Faster, Stronger*" opened in San Francisco and numerous other U.S. cities last Friday, while continuing in New York City and Los Angeles, is an entertaining and probing examination of America's steroid culture.  Mr. Bell, an alumnus of the University of Southern California, leaves no stone unturned in his probing documentary, a very entertaining examination of the look good.  Last Thursday Mr. Bell was in town at a local hotel from which he was talking about the new film, his first since "Billy Jones" in 2000, about a young boy's addiction to smoking.

Addiction is also a prevailing theme in "Bigger, Faster, Stronger*", as the muscular filmmaker explained regarding the excessive and repetitive use of steroids in American culture.  "A lot of people like to paint it as a black and white issue and I say it's a red, white and blue issue.  It's America's win-at-all-costs culture has been breeding kind of this idea of using performance-enhancing drugs both in athletics and just to look better in sports and body building in general just to feel better and possibly have a better quality of life," said Mr. Bell, who used steroids for a time before giving them the boot. 

One of the key inquiries that Mr. Bell involved a dilemma that is faced by many who aspire to be like their role models.  "When I made the film I set out to find out that -- well, when you find out that all of your heroes have used steroids do you follow the rules or do you follow your heroes?  And for me and my brothers we found that doing what our heroes did was going to get us where we wanted to be.   And I had a moral problem with it, but my brothers didn't seem to have that."  Illustrating the complexity of the issues that the use of steroids, Mr. Bell asked allowed.  "How can three brothers brought up in the same household all have differing opinions on this subject?"  In furtherance of Mr. Bell's inquiry was an even more narrowly tailored issue: "I wanted to also explore, why are these drugs illegal, why are they banned?  Is it because they're killing people because they're dangerous, or is it simply because people were cheating in sports?  And so I found evidence that sided with the fact that it was because of  Carl Lewis was beaten by Ben Johnson (in the Summer Olympics). 

"Bigger Faster Stronger*" was completed in December 2007, right before the calendar turned to 2008.  During that month the famed Mitchell Report, the in-depth report about Major League Baseball players and allegations of several players' use of steroids, with mentions of numerous high-profile players, including Mr. Bonds and Mr. Clemens, the latter of whom testified in February of this year before the U.S. House of Representatives on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.  Chris Bell, an easy going individual whose musculature is offset by his disarming personality, took about three years of his life to make the film, but said "it was 35 years in the making basically, to get to this point where I could make this film," he confessed.  "I don't think that this film would resonate with anybody if it was done ten years ago.  I think it's because of all of the culture surrounding it and Barry Bonds breaking the (all-time Major League Baseball home run) record (in 2007) and Marion Jones getting her medals (from the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games) stripped and all these things that contribute to the success and popularity of this subject matter . . . somebody needed to step in and say, 'hey look, you guys need to re-examine this issue because you're going about it all the wrong way,' and that's what our film does," said Mr. Bell.

Mr. Bell's film also exposes the culpability of everyone who watches, participates in or commentates on sports in America when it comes to steroid use.  There are definitely no sacred cows in the documentary.  "We're all part of this.  We're all responsible in one form or another in supporting this.  I think we all want to see bigger athletes and better scores.  We all say how we don't want steroids in sports but we kind of do.  And I'm not condoning it.  I think if you have rules in a sport you should follow them.   The problem is we're a country of 'tweeners.  We're saying, 'steroids are bad and they're gonna kill you and they're terrible, and they should be out of sports', yet we're not going really test for them in any logical way we're going to not spend money on developing a test for human growth hormone or not stepping up to the plate on ," said Mr. Bell, who also criticized the penalties for first-time steroid use.  "If you get caught the penalty is you miss four games.  If you really want to get rid of them why not kick the guy out?  'Hey, you're gone.'  If you do it you don't play again.  I don't see those guys taking that risk (if the penalty was so severe)."

Mr. Bell was asked if he desired to run for political office.  "No way," he said.  He had some choice words for Arnold Schwarzenegger, the current California governor, who is featured prominently in his documentary.  "You mean against Arnold?" 

When the response Mr. Bell got was affirmative, the filmmaker added: "Son of bitch," and smiled.  It wasn't clear whether Mr. Bell was merely echoing a line spoken by the governor back in his acting days in the film "Predator" when Mr. Schwarzenegger said those three magical words to Carl Weathers.  Rather, it seemed that Mr. Bell wasn't joking about the former Mr. Olympia. 

"Bigger, Faster, Stronger*" is now playing in many cities across the U.S. and Canada.

*-The University of Southern California Trojans football team, it should be noted, won the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I Championship in 2004 and 2005 and lost a dramatic national championship game to Texas in 2006.

Copyright The Popcorn Reel.  2008.  All Rights Reserved.


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