Appellate Judge James A. Stewart used to wonder how Roger Moore found the time to wrestle in a mask.
"If we look at Mexican culture, it is a masked culture, mythical, with a series of rituals, colorful."
I still remember the first time I heard of Lucha Libre. I was watching the Incredibly Strange Film Show on TV, and Jonathan Ross presented El Santo, the masked wrestler who also starred in a lot of horror movies. Since then, I've seen glimpses of Lucha Libre on TV here and there.
What is Lucha Libre? Even the experts don't quite know. "The ritual is theatrical, but it also has an athletic dimension," says Lourdes Grobet, who discusses Lucha Libre in Tales of Masked Men. That's at least close enough to let you know it's hard to explain, as is much of the expert commentary in the documentary. I know what draws my attention, though. It's the feeling you get when you watch footage of the fans and luchadores, the feeling that you could get swept up in it yourself if you found yourself at a match with everyone else getting into it.
What is known is that Lucha Libre started in Mexico in the early 1930s, and quite a few luchadores took to wearing masks. Tales of Masked Men shows photos and programs from that era, with clips of both matches and movies throughout Lucha Libre's history, not to mention more footage of those intense fans. It also profiles three wrestlers: El Santo (of course), the four-foot-five Mascarita Sagrada, and Solar, who is teaching his son his profession.
There's also some discussion of masks in Mexican religious and folk rituals and the importance of the audience. Lucha Libre is probably something that defies explanation, but a documentary has to try anyway. You might wonder how it affects the fans—or Solar himself, for that matter—as he walks through a festival in his mask, but the sight may say as much as any explanation.
Presented in standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, the picture quality is good, although it varies with the footage. There are no extras, although the Spanish-language version of the documentary is also available. Many of the interviews are in Spanish, with English subtitles.
Since it is a short documentary for public television, you'll want a bit more, particularly when it comes to the voices of fans. However, Tales of Masked Men does a good job of introducing Lucha Libre to audiences unfamiliar with it.
I still don't quite know what the heck Lucha Libre is, but if I ever get to Mexico, Tales of Masked Men was just interesting enough that I'll probably head for a match and find out.
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