Written by: Mike Caccioppoli, Feature Film Critic
Bigger, Stronger, Faster* is a simply terrific documentary that I had the good fortune to see and review. Recently, I sat down with Chris Bell, the director of Bigger, Stronger, Faster* at the Seattle International Film Festival to talk about his film, as well as steroid use in America.
MC: So was it the whole current steroid controversy that encouraged you to make this film?
CB: I decided I wanted to make films when I was twenty years old, to go to USC film school. There was an article in Sports Illustrated about a kid that wanted to commit suicide because of steroids. I started talking to my brothers who were using steroids. I asked them, doesn’t it do this to you, and that to you? They said no not at all. The fact that my brothers were doing it made it really interesting to me.
MC: Your film really goes in some interesting directions, did you map it all out ahead of time or was it just “learn as you go”?
CB: It’s kind of both. You start out wanting to interview people like Jose Canseco and Mark McGuire, etc and nobody wants to talk to you at first. Then you find a certain doctor who talks about all of these athletes who are doping and you say hey I really have to talk to him. Then once I interviewed him it led us to guys like Carl Lewis and it becomes like a snowball effect. It’s very important to earn everyone’s trust; I mean I’m not the kind of guy who’s going to slam you for using steroids.
MC: Right, it’s obvious in the film that you’re not going to accuse people who use steroids of being “morally bankrupt.”
CB: Yes, in the movie there’s a scene where I meet Arnold and people asked me afterward why I didn’t ambush him right there and ask questions. I’m not that kind of filmmaker, I tried to get to him afterwards and we couldn’t. So we tried different approaches and we got blown off by his staff but I’m not going to ambush him. I don’t think people give honest answers when they’re ambushed.
MC: Speaking of Arnold, there’s a scene in the film where the staff at Gold’s Gym is taking down pictures of Arnold from his bodybuilding days, we learn that his staff demanded they be taken down, is that really true?
CB: It’s a real mystery. I went to the gym to shoot some scenes and I see that they are taking down the pictures. I asked why and they told me that Arnold’s people told them that they could either take them down or pay royalties of like $500 a day for the last twenty years! My theory is that Arnold wants to clean up his image and separate himself from those days. It could just be his people though that want to protect his image.
MC: Interesting interview with Congressman Henry Waxman in the film.
CB: You know I walked out of the interview thinking I really bombed out because he didn’t know answers to anything. However my Producers said “Hey, it wasn’t your problem it was his.”
MC: Absolutely, but did he know that you were going to use those scenes of him asking his advisors what the drinking age was and answers to other questions he should have known?
CB: I’m sure that the normal news media would have cut that stuff out, but we were making a documentary and he never said “This is off the record” at all. We wanted to show that sometimes the people making the laws have no idea what the laws are.
MC: Any flak from his office yet?
CB: Not yet, we’re waiting for it though. (laughs)
MC: Well one of the many reasons I liked your film is that you ask tough, honest questions.
CB: I’m from New York (laughs) you ask what’s on your mind. I mean after Arnold admits to using steroids why doesn’t his wife (Maria Shriver) when she interviewed Lyle Alzado, ask real questions instead of just ambushing him?
MC: Do you think that big leaguers are still using steroids?
CB: Yes, I do. I think what baseball needs to do is wash away the past and get rid of the asterisk nonsense and just say that this is the policy now.
MC: Your film really backs up what many trainers have told me which is that there isn’t any proof that steroids can harm you.
CB: There’s not enough evidence to show it can kill you. There needs to be more credible doctors out there to do some real research, we don’t have much of that yet. I think one of the points of my film is that it demonstrates that we need to talk about the issue in an intelligent manner.
MC: In the film we see that your mom and dad feel guilt, they seem to think it’s something that they did or didn’t do, does your film kind of exonerate them by saying that it’s our culture that’s responsible for all of this?
CB: I think every individual is responsible for their own actions, there’s a certain point where my parents have to let go of that guilt. Our culture has a lot to do with it but I really don’t want to just blame society, I hope my film shows that it’s all interconnected, A plus B equals C, I don’t blame anyone or anything in particular.