An actor friend and Lucha Libre enthusiast from the indie hit The Crumbles recently clued me in to a tiny little film festival called the OC Film Fiesta in Santa Ana, which last night held a screening of El Santo and the Museum of Wax (El santo en el museo de cera) followed by a new documentary from Carlos Avila titled Tales of Masked Men. After weeks of enthusiastically stalking Avila's film via Facebook and Twitter, I was able to attend the intimate screening of both films.
Though only a few members of the audience were even alive when the El Santo film came out in 1963, the film's timelessness was evident by the reactions of the audience. From kids to grandparents, they cheered when Santo came on screen. They jeered at the rudo. And they gasped then breathed sighs of relief as Santo in his silver mask and sparkling cape solved the mystery with the precision and intelligence of Sherlock Holmes then saved the day in a classic, spectacular display of athleticism. There was no question in the minds of the audience members. Were an evil villain plotting to change us to an army monsters and encase us in wax today, Santo, himself, would still show up and rescue us all.
This was the perfect precursor for Tales of Masked Men, which highlighted El Santo's career and his heroic status in his real life. In a couple of weeks, this film will air on PBS, and its timing couldn't be better. Despite the popularity of Lucha Libre throughout the world, many still dismiss it as a violent sideshow. However, the film explores the roots of the sport as entertainment for the people and captures what these incredible athletes go through physically and emotionally to remain devoted to their personas as professional luchadors.
The film also delves into my favorite aspect of Lucha Libre, the films! As I've mentioned in the Mission history statement, the appeal of these characters is that they are heroes (or villains) both on and off screen. El Santo, Blue Demon, and Mil Mascaras are still considered cultural and celebrity heroes. People don't have to work as hard to believe in them the way they have to work to believe in Spiderman or The Fantastic Four. These guys are real people on and off screen, and their names and masks live on even after they're gone. As Dan Madigan (author of Mondo Lucha a Go Go) said in his interview for Tales, "Nothing lasts for eighty years on a whim." The spirit and popularity of Lucha Libre is alive and well and bubbling just under the radar of conventional entertainment.
On a side note, I was lucky last night to get to meet Thomas Calderon, who edited Mil Mascaras vs. the Aztec Mummy and is also the editor for Tales. It turns out he's a bit of a Lucha convert, like many in the entertainment industry and has grown to love and appreciate the sport, even claiming to be a rudo, himself.