Bigger, Stronger, Faster
Art house near you—A strange fact was lost in the hoopla over the celebrated racehorse Big Brown: Not only was the horse taking anabolic steroids until April, but no one seemed to think it was a big deal—at least not until the poor animal failed to win the third leg of the Triple Crown earlier this month.
The point is, we are awash in steroids, whether we like it or not. Opening amid a surge of timeliness and critical acclaim, Bigger, Stronger, Faster is Christopher Bell's documentary debut about the complex ethics of steroids and, Bell says, "America's win-at-all-costs culture."
We reached Bell by telephone last week:
IW: It's ironic that this is such an issue-oriented film about a hot-button topic, yet you go to great pains to remain as objective as possible in examining your subject matter.
CB: If you give me a context, I can tell you what I think. But, if you say overall whether they are good or bad, it is really hard to say. For instance, as we explore in the film, suppose you're an athlete and you get hurt. You can't use anabolic steroids to nurse yourself back to health, even though they are some of the best drugs to actually do that. But, we give them cortical steroids and painkillers, which can be more dangerous or addictive in some circumstances—and, they only mask the pain and do nothing to actually heal the injured muscle or tissues. So, I want people to examine the issue: Could this possibly be something that could be used for some good, or is it totally bad and should be demonized?
Instead of being a movie about drugs, I see your film as more analogous to something like Bowling for Columbine.
It's interesting you say that. Two of the really great additions we had to our film was co-producer Kurt Engfehr, who was the editor on Bowling and Fahrenheit 9/11, and producer Jim Czarnecki, who also produced Bowling. One of the first things Kurt asked me was, 'Chris, what was Bowling for Columbine about?' I said, 'Guns and gun control.' Kurt responded, 'No, it's about fear.' He asked what my film would be about, and I said, 'Steroids.' He said, 'No, it's not,' and he told me to go home and write an essay about what my movie is about. I came back the next day and told him my movie is about the concept of steroids and this drug that represents our win-at-all-costs culture. And he said, 'See, it's that simple; let that drive your movie.' I basically went to the poor man's Michael Moore school of documentary filmmaking by having Kurt and Jim there. —Neil Morris
Boxbomb, Oso Optimo, Max Indian
Cat's Cradle—Young Triangle rock combos Boxbomb and Oso Optimo approach grunge from different angles. The former folds it into dark, atmospheric modern rock, while the latter finds inspiration in grunge descendents Foo Fighters and Weezer. That said, Oso Optimo plants more hooks in their songs, at least the kind that stick. Max Indian, featuring members of The Old Ceremony and Roman Candle, reach back a few decades further to touch on Big Star and The Beatles, with instantly classic melodies married to jangling guitars. Brooklyn-via-Kentucky acousti-folkie Willie Breeding adds impassioned Americana to the mix. This fine 8 p.m. bill only costs a buck. —Spencer Griffith
Yogasana South—Maybe you'll find transcendence or something similar in the free henna tattoos or healthy desserts and coffee offered at the name-change celebration for this Five Points yoga studio. But you'll definitely find release in Megafaun's upwelling harmonies and cathartic inclusiveness. The trio's enlightened fusion of avant-rock and old-time folk builds monuments out of sinuous rhythms and lithe vocal swells. Live, it's sort of like yoga, equal parts mind and body, turning complex musical ideas into viscerally affecting, if unlikely anthems. This is a free show, so save your cash for the silent auction, which benefits the Triangle Land Conservancy. Megafaun plays at 9 p.m. —Bryan Reed
Shakermaker, Gray Young
Jack Sprat—During a summer such as this, the collegiate chaos of East Franklin Street subsides into quieter atmosphere: It's as likely a habitat for Shakermaker's casual falsetto-led pop and Gray Young's broad-brush guitar washes as any. There's no need for abrupt immediacy. Just listen as the light melodies seep into heavy air. With Birds & Arrows at 10:30 p.m. for $5. —Bryan Reed