THE ARMSTRONG LIE
Director's Statement -- Alex Gibney
The Anatomy of a Lie
I am often asked what's "new" about doping in "The Armstrong Lie."
The simple answer is: "very little."
But that simple answer is actually part of a more complicated and mysterious riddle.
(that extends way beyond the topical fashion of the news.)
The more interesting question posed by the film -- and my own journey through the story
-- is a mystery: why was the "Armstrong lie" able to hide in plain sight for so many
The most astounding aspect of the Lance Armstrong story is that his doping was never a
tightly held secret. Hundreds of people knew that Armstrong was doping during his
seven Tour wins. (Indeed, most leading cyclists were doping.) Further, many journalists,
armed with persuasive evidence, published extensive accounts of Armstrong's doping
long before his confession on Oprah. While it is true that Lance (and the sworn
statements of his former teammates) revealed new levels of detail in 2012 and 2013 --
some of which is included, for the first time, in "The Armstrong Lie" -- the essential truth
about Lance's doping has been well known for years.
Yet, despite all that, millions of people around the world refused to believe that Lance
had ever doped. Further, many of those who suspected Lance had doped, or even those
who had witnessed him injecting himself with EPO, willingly participated in the charade
that he rode clean.
What made me want to make this film was to understand how so many -- including
myself -- could be part of such a public cover-up. And I wanted to understand how
Armstrong could so effectively promote and protect such an elaborate lie. As the writer
Dan Coyle says in the film, "this is not a story about doping; it is a story about power."
The power was threefold. First, the power of Lance's essential story -- a cancer survivor
comes back to win the world's most grueling sporting event seven times -- seduced
millions into believing something that was too good to be true. Second, Lance's power
as a celebrity, his growing wealth and his ability to use his myth to lift the fortunes of
cycling, all allowed him to silence his critics and to punish them for trying to tell the
truth. Third, race organizers, journalists and sponsors all saw the economic advantage in
selling the lie rather than telling the truth.
It's all well and good to say these things on paper, with the benefit of hindsight. But how
do you show what happened?
This is where I had a unique cinematic opportunity: I was an accidental tourist on the
Lance Armstrong promo bus. Throughout 2009, I followed Lance Armstrong on his
celebrated comeback to professional cycling. In the wake of doping revelations, I
realized that my journey -- from admiring fan to angry dupe -- was the journey that so
many others had traveled. But I had a front row seat.
When the lie collapsed, I realized that all the footage that I had shot meant something
rather different than what I thought it meant at the time I was shooting. It was that David
Hemmings' moment from "Blow Up": my camera had captured something I hadn't
glimpsed with my naked eye.
What's "new" about "The Armstrong Lie" is the ability to see how the lie worked. These
are not new doping "facts"; these are telltale signs that only the camera can reveal. Look
at Lance's face, the way he seduces some and attacks others. Look at the way he marshals the crowd at a press conference to vilify a journalist. Look at the way he humiliates
another cyclist -- to the delight of the rest of the peloton and sycophantic journalists -- for
trying to tell the truth about his doping doctor.
Look at the brilliant Kabuki of the interviews that Lance orchestrates with his old
teammate Frankie Andreu. Watch his face as he acts out the role of celebrity cyclist even
as he conveys a number of hidden messages to his old friend: "you and I both know I
doped but you can't say it, can you?"; "I can control your destiny in this sport"; "I forgive
you for betraying me and accept you back." Then, not long after, in the wake of a terrible
defeat, Lance drops his act and speaks honestly to Frankie in a way that none of the
crowd around him can understand.
Then, in the interview I did with Lance after Oprah, can you tell if Lance is telling the
truth? I believe that he is, even though what he says may not be what we want to hear.
Yet, after seeing and hearing so many of his lies, can we really tell the difference between
what is canned and what is candid?
The French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard was said that film is "truth at 24 frames per
second." "The Armstrong Lie" is "untruth at 24 frames per second."
Showing the face of the lie -- and a reckoning with my own role in it -- turned out to be
the way to discover an enduring truth: too often, we only see what we want to believe.
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