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/PopcornReel.com)
Chris Bell, Bigger, Faster, Stronger and
More Heroic Than The Average USC Trojan*
Omar P.L. Moore/The
June 12, 2008
SAN FRANCISCO, California
"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
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
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
*-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
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