Tales of Masked Men, a new documentary about the colorful, fascinating and mysterious world of lucha libre — Mexican wrestling — will be the season opener for VOCES ON PBS, Latino Public Broadcasting’s arts and culture series on PBS. Shot in Mexico and the United States and filled with the passion and excitement that defines its subject, the film explores the history of lucha libre and what has made this eighty-year-old phenomenon endure. Directed by Carlos Avila, Tales of Masked Men premieres on VOCES on Friday, September 28, 2012 at 10 p.m. on witf, in conjunction with Hispanic Heritage Month.
Described by cultural anthropologist Heather Levi as “a sport in the key of melodrama,” lucha libre springs from the same root as American professional wrestling (i.e. Olympic and Greco-Roman style competitive wrestling), but has taken on the unique characteristics of Mexico and the country’s long-standing fascination with masks. Masks conceal faces but not feelings, allowing luchadors to transform themselves into either the character of a rudo, the rule-breaking villain, or a técnico, the fair and square, technically proficient hero. Practiced in large and small arenas throughout Mexico and the U.S. as well as other countries, this “working class” sport is truly interactive, with multigenerational fans passionately involved in the high drama of the ring.
Tales of Masked Men introduces three wrestlers, each of whom embodies different aspects of the sport and its traditions. The most revered and famous masked Mexican wrestler of all time is El Santo, once a journeyman wrestler who struggled to find a place in the lucha libre world. El Santo rose to prominence in the ring, eventually becoming an international film and television star whose persona and humanity deeply resonated with Mexicans. Originally a rudo, El Santo ultimately transformed into an icon signifying the triumph of good over evil, a national hero in Mexico whose presence is still felt today.
Standing just 4’ 5” tall, Mascarita Sagrada is one of the most dynamic and acrobatic wrestlers working in lucha libre today. The film examines the evolution of this personcita (little person) from his early life as the sheltered child of protective parents to becoming a masked wrestler. We hear the stories of how other mini-luchadores helped Mascarita develop into the wrestling great he is today.
Finally, we meet the classic wrestler Solar. Solar is in his fourth decade as a luchador and continues to wrestle throughout the world, regularly travelling to Japan, England, the United States and other parts of Europe. Rising out of a childhood of rural poverty, Solar found an identity and a livelihood in lucha libre. Sensing that the end of his career is near, Solar trains and prepares his son, Solar Jr., to step into the ring. Ultimately he may pass the Solar persona and mask on to his son, a lucha libre tradition that ensures immortality for the character.
Featuring interviews with cultural commentators, wrestlers, and observers of the sport as well as archival footage and clips from the “masked wrestler” adventure films, Tales of Masked Men is the vibrant story of how lucha libre has taken root in Mexican and Latino culture and become an integral part of its very identify.
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