If you are a fan of sports, you might have heard of the BALCO scandal, one of the most significant doping controversies in history. But do you know the whole story behind it? Who was the man who supplied the drugs to some of the most famous athletes in the world? How did he manage to evade detection for so long? And what were the consequences for those caught in his web of lies?
UNTOLD: HALL OF SHAME is a documentary that answers these questions and more. It is part of Netflix’s UNTOLD series, which explores the untold stories of sports legends and events. This episode focuses on Victor Conte, the founder of Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (BALCO). This blood testing company secretly provided performance-enhancing drugs to elite athletes in various sports, including baseball, football, and track and field.
The documentary features interviews with Conte himself, as well as some of his former clients, such as sprinter Tim Montgomery, who broke the world record in the 100 meters after using Conte’s drugs. It also includes footage from the federal investigation that exposed BALCO and led to the conviction of Conte and several others involved in the scandal.
The documentary is not only informative but also entertaining and humorous. It portrays Conte as a charismatic and cunning character, who used his self-taught knowledge of nutrition and chemistry to create undetectable drugs and fool the authorities. It also shows how Conte enjoyed being in the spotlight and associated with famous athletes, even after he was caught and served time in prison.
However, the documentary also reveals the darker side of Conte’s scheme and its impact on the athletes and the sports world. It shows how some athletes suffered from health problems, such as irregular menstrual cycles, due to the drugs. It also shows how some athletes lost their reputations, their medals, and their careers after being exposed as drug users. And it shows how the scandal tarnished the image of sports and raised questions about the integrity and fairness of competition.
If you have read my previous articles, you might have noticed that I love to take a dig at the story, may it be a movie or an episode of a series. But alas! I can’t do that for documentaries, because things are like ‘it is how it is’. This documentary has all the ‘textbook characteristics’ of a good documentary, it is well-researched and well-produced. It properly utilizes all the information got from a variety of sources, such as interviews, footage, documents, and graphics, to tell the story of the BALCO scandal compellingly and coherently that will keep you hooked.
The documentary is balanced and fair. It does not demonize or glorify Conte or the other athletes It presents their perspectives and motivations, as well as their challenges and dilemmas.
It is also insightful and educational. It explains the science and history of performance-enhancing drugs and their effects on the human body and performance in a proper way like every documentary should. It also explores the ethical and legal issues surrounding doping in sports and the role of testing agencies and authorities.
Yes, the documentary follows all the ‘textbook instructions’, and it doesn’t try to do anything experimental or new, something innovative, it doesn’t take any risks about its making style, this applies to all the previous episodes of the series.
So let’s start with the complaints, first of all, The documentary is too focused on Conte and his personality. It gives too much attention to his background, his motivations, his methods, and his interactions with the media and the authorities, well I don’t care about all that information and insight because I am not writing a biography or a research paper on him, same applies for the most of the audience. Rather I would have liked to have a detailed view of the scam itself, what were its implications, who were the other implications, etc. Well it’s not actually a complaint, but I would have been happier.
Don’t lash out at me, the documentary was mostly well-balanced, but sometimes it was so over-the-top and cheesy that it made me wonder if it was a parody or a horror movie. It bombards you with loud music, flashy effects, cartoonish animations, and dramatic narration that make you feel like you’re watching a trailer for the next Avengers or Mission Impossible film.
In a few weak moments, It also exaggerates everything to the point of absurdity, making it seem like the BALCO scandal was the biggest crime of the century and the end of civilization as we know it. It does not bother to explain or explore the complicated and controversial issue of doping in sports, because that would be too boring and sensible.
Well the documentary is not bad, it has all the typical characteristics a documentary like this should have, but it is not very brilliant either. It shows you the ugly side of sports and the price of cheating. It is a documentary that will make you laugh, cry, and maybe vomit too.
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