It feels like bio-pics are all the rage.
The latest documentary to profile a sports figure in the boxing world is 'Hall Of Shame', profiling Victor Conte, best known for the BALCO scandal, which is featured in the latest installment of Untold.
The total story of Conte had yet to be revealed as his character was ran through the mud in the early 00s when he was called a bunch of names, no worse than the Saddam Hussein of sports, but what often gets left out is Conte's meticulous preparation, his intense eye for detail, and the part that most overlook - he created his own destiny. Conte came from a working-class family in the Central California region and forged an empire, first in music and then in the sports and fitness industry.
Never one to shy away from a good debate, Conte has now become known for his ability to stir up controversy with a hot take whether on his SNAC System YouTube channel or his Twitter account (I refuse to call the platform X).
The documentary starts with a montage of news clips including interviews with Conte himself from the now-infamous BALCO era. The intro does a good job of setting the stage for the rest of the feature. Conte, who filmed his interview in the SNAC Gym in San Carlos, Ca, feels as though he was targeted based on his success with doping in sports as others did it as well, but were not persecuted to the same extent. Others during this intro bash Conte.
The title of the movie comes from Conte’s opening monologue as Conte states ‘welcome to the hall-of-fame, or hall-of-shame,’ which is a trip around his office, in San Carlos, California. Showing off the memorabilia of athletes he has worked with most notably Barry Bonds. The most interesting aspect is Conte’s drive. Self-taught in his field, the opening of the feature shows the most compelling thing about Conte…when he goes all in on something - he is all in. Watching the beginning of the film gives a good look into what Conte is now, and somewhat how he become who he is.
The start outlines how Conte got into using performance-enhancing drugs and talks about the gradual progression into the seedy waters of PEDs. As Conte advanced in sports, he was faced with an ethical dilemma, not unlike the athletes he worked with. Conte had found success working with NFL athletes and Olympians, which was a feat for someone who entered athletics from a successful music career.
Yet, the drive in the beginning, the need to be the best seemed to come from seeing a race with Ben Johnson as Conte felt as though seemingly every top athlete in the era was using drugs - and Conte decided to jump into what they call in the film ‘the dark side’. Unlike Star Wars, the dark side is another name for performance-enhancing drugs.
We transition into a segment with Oliver Caitlin, who is the son of renowned anti-doping guru Don Catlin, who talks about how Conte was involved in creating undetectable steroids. Conte’s transition into performance-enhancing drugs was in 2000.
Conte details the process of working with Marion Jones, including the indictable steroid that he was manufacturing. The level of precision includes a calendar set up to circumvent the testing.
This then becomes the ethical dilemma of the whole thing. It seems every Olympian and athlete was willing to take steroids if it could give them an advantage. The drug tests were not at a level that could dictate some designer steroids…hence we transition into Victor Conte working with Barry Bonds.
The segment is set up as anti-climatic as Conte refutes ever giving Barry Bonds PEDs at all - or providing him with any form of PED. This was a theme of the film it felt the filmmakers seemed to want to get Conte to say on camera 'Bonds was dirty', but it never happened, even though it was circulated back a couple of times.
This transitions into the intro of Conte’s sworn enemy, Jeff Novitzky, the man created for taking down Conte.
Novitzky details how he got into law enforcement, and how Conte got on his radar. Novitzky also talked about how he would run the plates of fancy cars and see the job the person had to see if it matched up with the income needed. Something that is both brilliant, but also questionable in terms of ethics.
It is as clear as day that Conte and Novitzky are as opposite people. Conte is a fun-loving hippie who wants to be the best, and Novitzky is a status-quo right-and-wrong morality-based person. You probably couldn’t find two different types of people than these two. Novitzky sees himself as the enforcer of a consequence and Conte is very much an ‘ends justify the means…’ guy.
The strength of the film is the candid conversations with Conte, who is often unseen in the public eye, and not often documented in recent memory, let alone reflecting on the past in a professional documentary. The film felt like something Conte had waited decades for - a place for him to share his side of events, as Conte’s interview clips compiled with home video footage often felt more therapeutic than it did your run-of-the-mill interview.
Not unlike a good crime movie, Conte and Tim Montgomery detail an almost uncontrollable urge of constant muscle enhancement that was displayed, and not unlike any great movie - the fall was soon to follow.
Novitzky reemerges as he details going through the BALCO trash in the evening. As not unlike Conte’s urges to be the best, Novitzky became obsessed with catching Conte and BALCO as a whole. Novitzky viewed Conte as a master marketer, and also unethical as he looked at Conte’s association with Marion Jones and Barry Bonds as one big ad campaign.
Montgomery and Conte have a disagreement - as Montgomery claims that Conte said he wanted 35% of his earning, whereas Conte disagreed with that claim.
Novitzky goes into detail about catching Conte, as they talked about a banned substance called ‘the clear’. Novitzky explained that Conte created a cream to work within the ratio of the legal limits of testosterone for professional sports.
That leads to the infamous BALCO raid which was described as a scene out of a movie.
A heated moment comes between Jeff Novitzky and Conte who differ on Conte giving Barry Bonds steroids. Novitzky says Conte told him that during an interrogation whereas Conte states that the question was misleading stating that he was asked if he worked with him.
Montgomery returns at the end, labeling Conte as a ‘con artist’. Stating that because Conte wasn’t a doctor, it was trial and error. Conte sternly protests as the segment, sheds light on the wild-west nature of sports doping at the turn of the millennium.
We transition into the BALCO trial in which politicians used it as a way to campaign for reelection. Conte believes Novitzky targeted him for a celebrity status that he felt it would have obtained him, and marquee politicians like John Ashcroft weighed in on the subject putting a moral fabric over sports and condemning PED usage.
It felt as though people at this time wanted the performance from performance-enhancing drugs, but didn’t want to be a part of the ethical dilemma of being responsible for an athlete to have to risk their health for such a thing.
Novitzky saw it as ground zero in PED reform and something that would force others to think twice about cheating.
Conte talks about imprisonment and reflects on the pain that his actions caused to his family, but more so the effect that all the athletes he had worked with - had felt this. In short, his time locked away forced him to reflect and have empathy with others.
The big takeaway is Conte was an outlier in the scientific community. An outsider scientist - who was a brash and cocky personality that didn’t fit the mold of the typical scientist. In fact, Conte has no traditional training in science. Conte has now resurfaced as a figure in the boxing community as the documentary ends with undisputed lightweight world champion, Devin Haney, training at the SNAC System gym in San Carlos, California.
The big misstep of the film is clear. We needed a final scene in which Conte and Novitzky face each other years later. That was the moment that was needed to conclude the film. Yet, instead, we got a few montages that ended the film.
In the end, it is an interesting and general overview of the BALCO-era of Victor Conte, but it also misses out on touching on his musical career prior or his involvement in boxing and drug test after. The film is simply a moment in time with some context, but not a ton outside of a certain moment in the history of sports.