By Willie Krischke — February 28, 2009
Michael Moore basically revolutionized documentary filmmaking a few years ago by putting himself in the film, infusing it with a pop culture sensibility and following a sort of stream-of-consciousness narrative style, where the direction of the documentary is determined by the filmmaker’s curiosity rather than a strict, more journalistic adherence to a certain subject matter. Yes, we can thank Moore for his innovation, and since then, a score of filmmakers have been making Moore-style films that are better than the films Michael Moore is making. They have taken the ball and run with it, and he’s on the bench, barking at the coach to put him in.
“Bigger Stronger Faster,” by first time documentarian Chris Bell, is one of the best documentaries of the year, and owes a big style debt to Michael Moore. Bell is a body builder in a family of body builders, and he explores the issue of steroid use from the inside. His two brothers use steroids. Almost all of his heroes use them, from Hulk Hogan to Mark McGwire. And, much to my surprise, he talks to doctor after doctor who agree that no study has conclusively shown that steroids are any more harmful to one’s health than vitamin supplements or Big Macs.
So why all the fuss, all the congressional hearings, all the Ad Council TV spots and shamed athletes? Bell never really finds an answer to that question, except that performance enhancing is considered cheating. Unless, of course, you’re a concert musician — most of those take sedatives to calm their nerves. Or a student popping Ritalin before a big test, or a truck driver living on Red Bull. All (except maybe the truck drivers) are essentially competitive endeavours, same as sports. To his credit, instead of going the easy route and arguing for the legalization of anabolic steroids, poses a much more interesting question: why are these things ok? And why are so many Americans so addicted to performance?
Why do we need to be bigger, stronger, faster, smarter, longer than anyone else? Bell dives into these questions with wit, intelligence, and verve, and the result is certainly one of the most provocative, entertaining, and fascinating documentaries of 2008.