Since his high school days in the 1980s, Chris Bell has lifted weights, sold gym memberships and landed a writing job for the WWE. You know, storylines for the Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin and John Cena.
Oh yeah, and right out of high school, Bell made a music video, too, for his friends who danced on MTV's "The Grind." The video won a contest sponsored by Sony and the American Film Institute. One of the judges: Francis Ford Coppola, who wrote a recommendation letter for Bell to get into film school at the University of Southern California.
At USC, Bell met Alexander Buono, who later became an Oscar nominee for a live-action short about a boxer.
Over time Bell and Buono lost touch. But several years ago, Buono walked into the legendary Gold's Gym. And there was Bell.
That's basically the genesis for "Bigger, Stronger, Faster*," Bell and Buono's new steroids documentary receiving heaps of praise from critics across the country. "Bigger," which Bell co-wrote and directed and Buono co-wrote, produced and shot on an HD camera, has a 100 percent approval rating at Rottentomatoes.com.
"Bigger" looks not just at steroids and what they do and don't do to human bodies, but peers critically at the win-at-all-costs American culture that breeds desire to use the drugs. It's about "Rambo" and "Rocky," Barry Bonds and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and George C. Scott in "Patton" proclaiming, "Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser."
The documentary also delves deep into Bell's own family, including his two brothers, who readily admit they've used steroids for years.
Bell, who also in the film admits he tried steroids for a brief period, recently visited Atlanta to talk about his documentary.
Q. Your film shows your mother learning for the first time that her sons were using steroids. What's been the family reaction to the intimate details revealed?
A. Overall, I think it's brought our family together. If you ever sit down and interview your parents it's probably the weirdest thing you'll ever do. You don't normally talk like that so it opens up these dialogues and you end up feeling like you can tell them anything.
In America, we as children explore things that maybe we don't want our parents to know about or we think our parents would condemn us. I found that through telling this story and talking about steroids, I think I could tell my parents anything now.
My mom's main reaction is, "Look, I brought you up to be honest and tell the truth and if something good comes out of it, like this film, then God bless you."
Q. Your film says that as a culture, we certainly have demonized steroids.
A. Kids need knowledge, not lies. It's an adult decision to make [regarding use of steroids] and telling them that and laying out the consequences for them, that's the way to treat kids as opposed to "just say no" or "stop the madness."
Q. Is using steroids cheating?
A. If you're using steroids in American sports and the sport has a rule against it, then that's cheating. But if you're competing in pro bodybuilding or in other areas like powerlifting ... golf. Anything where they're not testing for it. How is that cheating?
Q. Should there be a rule against steroids?
A. I think that in sports you should have rules just like you have a foul ball line. You don't want to have young athletes to have to take a drug to rely on their performance. What you want to do is say we play fair. Our problem is we say the drugs are bad, but we don't have adequate testing. We don't have stiff penalties.
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