“When your closet’s clean, then come clean somebody else’s. But clean yours first.”
Netflix is the greatest and the worst all at once. Sometimes, it can be amazing for discovering movies I never would have thought to watch otherwise. Sometimes it’s great for reminding me about movies that I had been meaning to see, but never got around to. But most of the time, it just ends up being me cycling through movie after movie after movie, without ever committing to actually pressing play. Last night was one of those times when Netflix was the greatest. Because I have been meaning to watch Bigger Stronger Faster ever since it came out seven years ago. And thanks to it popping up on Netflix, I finally did.
Chris Bell grew up as chubby kid, with chubby brothers (nicknamed Smelly and Mad Dog) and overweight parents. To counter teasing about their weight, all three Bell brothers began weight lifting. It was a hobby that turned into a passion, and as adults, all three still participate in some way. Mad Dog had fleeting, low level success as a wrestler with the WWE, while Chris and Smelly went into competitive power lifting. Chris dabbled in steroids years earlier, but is now against them. Whereas Smelly and Mad Dog both openly use performance enhancing drugs to chase their goals. Worried about their health, but admittedly uneducated on the matter, Chris decided to investigate steroids and their effects.
From experts, to dodgy trainers, to celebrity scandal footage, Bell gets all sorts of opinions from every side. And he also highlights that steroids go beyond sport. Seeing American soldiers openly talk about the drugs they routinely take to stay sharp, or the concert musicians who rely on chemicals to get through performance anxiety, or the dude who looks fit and strong despite having HIV, all make for a really well rounded take on the subject. Better Stronger Faster has no interest in the black and white, because it knows that the best bits are in the grey areas.
The worst kind of documentaries are those with a clear agenda, a barrow to push and conclusion already made, that the film maker then tries to dress up as objective or investigative. I have no problem with bias in documentary film making, I just like directors to be open and honest in their bias. Even if I don’t agree with their opinion, I can still be entrained by watching them force it on me. But Better Stronger Faster is the best kind of documentary. It goes in asking questions, and is open to go wherever the answers might take it.
As the end credits rolled, I still never felt like Chris Bell or his movie was trying to sell me either way. As someone who refuses to take steroids in a field that is rife with them, Bell obviously starts the movie against their use. But by the end, he’s given both sides of the issue plenty of opportunities to present their case. And I never felt like he was cherry picking the footage or editing in a way to make one side look better or worse than the other. And, like all great documentaries, it made me think about the subject more than I ever have and take it much more seriously than I ever have before.