Usually I aim this column at a mainstream studio release, but sadly there are no documentaries about antihero motorcyclists with flaming skull heads or tiny people who live under the floorboards or spies involved in love triangles (That I know of anyway. If I’ve missed them, please let me know, because those sound like great doc topics). Instad this week I have an alternative to the Oscar-nominated foreign film “Bullhead,” which opens in limited release today. If you’re wondering if you should see this slow and terribly unsatisfying Belgian crime drama, I have a Doc Option for you:
Chris Bell’s “Bigger Stronger Faster*” is not at all like a real-life version of “Bullhead,” which focuses on a castrated cattle farmer mixed up with a local “hormone mafia,” but it did come to mind while I was watching the latter. This 2008 doc looks into the debate about anabolic steroids with emphasis on their use by athletes for performance enhancement, and it’s centered around Bell’s own brothers’ experiences with and abuses of such drugs to benefit their wrestling careers.
The main character in “Bullhead” also injects hormones, though it’s initially a medical necessity due to the literal ball -busting he suffered as a kid. However, the overstressed parallel between this hulking eunuch and his cattle, which are also shot up with chemicals, is what made me recall this specific part of “Bigger Stronger Faster*” involving, as it turns out, a Belgian Blue, the genetically modified cow breed that doesn’t need any outside enhancement:
And here’s a deleted scene from the movie featuring the filmmaker eating some Belgian Blue beef (there’s steak cooking scenes in “Bullhead” too!):
“Bullhead” is being called a tragedy, but I’d only use that word in relation to how disappointingly boring and awkwardly scripted it is. “Bigger Stronger Faster*” is a true tragedy if you take into account the death of one of Bell’s brothers months after the film opened. The doc is also a lot more fascinating, thought-provoking and entertaining than the foreign drama. It certainly left me a lot more unsure of my stance on the issue of anabolic steroids. And even though it’s already a four-year-old film, the discussion within “Bigger Stronger Faster*” is ongoing and the questions it raises are still left unanswered.
“Bigger Stronger Faster*” is currently available to rent on DVD and streaming on Amazon Instant. You can also wait shortly to stream the film free on SnagFilms. The digital rights to this doc were acquired recently along with a number of other titles, but it hasn’t yet appeared on the site. For now, check out “Bullhead” if you’re curious — many critics are bigger, stronger, faster fans of the Oscar contender than I am — and watch the doc’s trailer below: