Saturday, November 30, 2013

"The Armstrong Lie": detailed biography of how the famed cyclist's career and charity came down with "The Cheating Culture"

The Armstrong Lie”  is a somewhat bloated and detailed biography of Lance Armstrong (Lance Edward Gunderson), running slightly over two hours.  It takes a position that sounds like a necessary paradox.  The public became big fans or Lance and of competitive cycling, which became so extreme that doping under the tables became accepted.  “Everybody did it.’  That was part of "The Cheating Culture" as described in the 2004 book by David Callahan (books blog, March 28, 2006).  But Lance insisted on perpetuating the lies, and bullied those who threatened him, since he had deeper pockets.  The film starts with this interview with Oprah Winfrey on OWN, where he told all.
I have tweeted before that “Lance Armstrong shaved his legs for nothing.”  In fact, his career, until he was “caught”, seemed to exemplify a certain kind of manly virtue.  The film shows that he became an aggressive bike competitor while a teen in Plano, Texas (I would have been living in Dallas at the time).  After initial successes, he rather suddenly became ill in 1996, coughing up blood, and was found to have advanced testicular cancer, which Lance in the film explains moves up through the abdomen to the lungs and brain.  Amazingly, he survived the brain surgery, and a newer form of chemotherapy prevented permanent damage to his lungs, enabling him to resume competitive cycling (starting out in his home Austin TX neighborhood on a mountain bike).  There was controversy when Betsy Andreu reportedly overheard Lance admit at Indian University Hospital that he had doped (Washington Post story here ) and that doing so could have provoked the cancer.

Lance would found his LiveStrong charity, and promote the idea of emotional commitment to people recovering from cancer, which often results in physical changes to people (hence the “Be Brave and Shave” fundraisers).  Likewise, cycling (as does swimming) allows the idea that the male body is altered to eliminate wind resistance (which is met with more in meets by riders staying together), and that manliness is strictly a matter of performance.  This has always sounded striking to me.
Of interest, too, is the way the publication (only in French, in 2004) of the book “L. A. Confidentiel” by Pierre Ballester and David Walsh.  Armstrong litigated heavily against the authors and publishers, and wound up stopping publication in English and in the United States.  The book is still on Amazon only in French, but there is a 2007 book “From Lance to Landis: Inside the American Doping Controversy and the Tour de France”. 
The film does offer some spectacular scenery of the mountain routes in Italy and France. 
The official site (Sony Pictures Classics) is here.

I saw the film at the AMC Shirlington in Arlington on Saturday afternoon.  The presentation had a problem with sporadic dropout of some channels of the stereo sound, resulting in erratic volume. 

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