NEW YORK (Reuters) - A new documentary that takes a wide-ranging look at steroid abuse suggests an American culture of winning at all costs is at odds with its public condemnation of the performance-enhancing drugs.
"Bigger, Stronger, Faster*," which opened in the United States on Friday, features interviews with gym junkies, medical experts, U.S. lawmakers and athletes such as former sprinters Carl Lewis and Ben Johnson and cyclist Floyd Landis.
But the documentary from the producers of Michael Moore's hits "Fahrenheit 9/11" and "Bowling for Columbine" also includes comical and touching first-person accounts by director Chris Bell and his confessed steroid-using weightlifting and bodybuilding brothers.
"I am basically looking at all the hypocrisy surrounding steroids," said Bell, 35, who chronicles growing up idolizing and emulating "winners" such as Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"Seeing all these larger-than-life heroes, I wanted to be like them and I did not know they were using steroids," he said. "Nobody wants to talk about steroids and I knew my brothers would tell me the truth so I started with them."
The film broadens its scope when it explores why steroids have a bad name -- they have legitimate medical purposes but it is illegal to use them without a prescription in the United States -- and why America obsesses over body image.
"More scrupulously reported than your average Michael Moore film but every bit as entertaining, 'Bigger, Stronger, Faster*' is as commercial as documentaries come," said Variety magazine.
The film suggests that part of the problem is a penchant for making scapegoats out of athletes like former Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson when in fact steroids can be traced back to American Olympic teams in the 1950s and 1960s.
It also points to the lack of regulation by agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration of enhancers such as legal dietary supplements, which can include stimulants.
"They should be working on defining better rules and regulations. You have to follow the rules but then the rules are really blurry," said Bell, adding that more money needs to be put into drug testing.
"Everything has to be bigger and better and that is part of the American psyche," he said. "It's not steroids that are the problem, they are a side effect of being American. The idea of steroids comes out of the idea of winning."
Editing by Michelle Nichols and Xavier Briand