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Tales Of Masked Men

Airs Friday, September 28, 2012 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Wrestler Solar and Solar Jr. masked. “Lucha libre,” famous for its masked wrestlers, provides a sense of “home” for new immigrants in the United States.

"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 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.

Wrestler El Santo in competition, late 1960s.
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Above: Wrestler El Santo in competition, late 1960s.

Mascarita Sagrada
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Above: Mascarita Sagrada

Solar (right) trains and prepares his son, Solar Jr., to step into the ring.
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Above: Solar (right) trains and prepares his son, Solar Jr., to step into the ring.

Recommended Reading

Lucha libre has been around since the 1930s and has found deep resonance among fans. Fortunately, along with Octavio Paz and Roland Barthes other great writers and photographers have done extensive work in a variety of genres to tell the lucha libre story. View a list of favorites.

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.

"Tales Of Masked Men" is on Facebook. VOCES is on Facebook, and you can follow @VocesMedia on Twitter.

Your browser does not support this object. Content can be viewed at actual source page: http://video.kpbs.org/video/2282163682

Watch Tales of Masked Men - Preview on PBS. See more from VOCES.

Above: Explore the sport of “lucha libre” and its role in Latino communities in the United States and Mexico.

Video

Lucha Libre: The Basics

"Tales of Masked Men" - Lucha Libre 101 - the very basics of the sport. from Carlos Avila on Vimeo.

Above: This clip is featured in “Tales of Masked Men” and discusses fundamentals of lucha libre.

Video

Web Exclusive: Mask Maker Juan Guerrero

Tales of Masked Men - Web Exclusive: Mask Maker Juan Guerrero from Carlos Avila on Vimeo.

Above: This web exclusive is a bonus scene not included in "Tales of Masked Men."