AKA: Tales of Masked Men: A Journey Through Lucha Libre
Genre: Wrestling Documentary/Sports/Historical
Year Released: 2012
Running Time: 55 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: PG
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Lucha Mexico, Insane Fight Club, Smack ‘Em Up, The British Wrestler, Rey Mysterio: 619
-Director Carlos Avila has directed 2 episodes of Grimm and one episode of Cold Case. Some of his other directorial work includes Price of Glory, The Tent Show, and the Foto-Novelas series which was featured on PBS.
-Salvador Lutteroth (who’s mentioned in this documentary) is considered to be the main gatekeeper that gave the luchador style more mainstream attention. He’s also the founder of Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre AKA CMLL which was created in 1933. That’s 19 years older than the WWWF which was the precursor to the WWE.
-Mascarita Sagrada has been featured in CMLL (where he won the Mini-Estrella Championship), Impact (FKA TNA) as a one-shot appearance, and he’s wrestled in the WWE under the name Mini Nova in the 90s.
-Legendary luchador El Santo is the main inspiration for the characters El Rey in Mucha Lucha and two different characters (White Pantera and Silver Sombrero) in El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera.
Some of you probably think I’ve lost my mind as you clicked on this review. Compared to other documentaries I’ve reviewed that dealt with topics such as theatre, religion, institutionalized racism, history, music, businesses, and other things, no one would have expected this. As you can surmise from this review and the cover of the DVD, I’m reviewing a pro wrestling documentary. Not anything from the likes of the WWE, Impact, Ring of Honor, or anything like that: I’m talking about Lucha Libre straight out of Mexico. If the words Hurricanrana or El Santo mean anything to you or can name more luchadors besides Rey Mysterio, then you might find something of interest here.
Tales of Masked Men is an American/Mexican documentary that deals with the history and present nature of Lucha Libre. For those of you who have little to no knowledge of this form of pro wrestling, here’s the scoop. It’s a Mexican tradition of pro wrestling that’s been around since the 30s. The wrestlers portray colorful over-the-top characters where they go to local arenas in neighborhoods to major federations such as CMLL or Asistencia Asesoría y Administración (AAA for short [not to be confused with the motor club]). Contrary to the preconceptions of Lucha Libre, not everyone wears a mask, but they are super common in this genre of wrestling. Typically, the masked wrestlers have their personal identities concealed so several of these people can live double lives in Mexico. Some wrestlers portray tecnico wrestlers who are the good guys (faces if you’re a wrestling fan) in storylines while others portray rudos who are the villains (or heels).
I didn’t expect to be so engrossed in this documentary filled with masked men and melodramatic forms of stage combat. It was amazing when you had all these interviewees talk about Lucha Libre so intelligently when pro wrestling is considered to be a lowbrow form of entertainment. Some of the random nuggets of information coming from businessmen, historians, photographers, and the wrestlers themselves were quite fascinating. I didn’t realize how old of a tradition this was. One thing that was brought up was the correlation between the luchador masks and pre-colonial times in Latin America. It was mentioned that the masked tradition was a throwback of sorts to centuries ago when the indigenous peoples in Mexico would put on masks of various animals or monsters to portray characters in rituals and forms of entertainment. The essence translated into this form of professional wrestling where these performers are hiding their faces, but “not their feelings” to quote one of the interviewees. It was also intriguing how there would be (and still are) lucha arenas across several local neighborhoods in Mexico where several people (typically working class) can go enjoy the action while taking their whole families to these events. There are even comparisons to theatre itself in indirect ways where the performers are unintentionally invoking elements of classical melodrama, morality plays, and even expressionism as they flip, kick, and suplex each other.
The documentary focuses on some legends and some current wrestlers. The living ones that get interviewed are Solar, Mascarita Sagrada, and Solar Jr. Solar is a veteran wrestler whose nickname is El Maestro (Teacher) for the super technical aspects of his in-ring prowess. He’s been wrestling for over four decades and is still active to this day whereas most other wrestlers would’ve retired by now. Mascarita Sagrada is a wrestler with dwarfism. He’s 4’ 5″, but is able to go toe-to-toe with people who are literally head and shoulders taller than him and he’s been a star in what’s known as the “mini-division” of several federations. Solar Jr. is the son of the aforementioned Solar who has a similar mask pattern like his father. Both him and Solar even act as a tag team which I thought was really cool. How many father/son tag teams can you name? That was a rarity in itself. I will admit that while all the stories and history were good, I was the most impressed by Mascarita Sagrada’s story. He’s the only one in his family with dwarfism and was constantly bullied because of his size. Mascarita took kung fu lessons before getting into the world of Lucha Libre. He had often thought about his condition as a hindrance before when he says “Why didn’t God make me big or even average sized?”, but he thanked God anyway as he learned to do more than what was expected of his short stature. There’s a strong argument to be made that having little people wrestle can be exploitative given the American origins of having combatants with dwarfism (I won’t use the term that’s been associated with this form of entertainment). That is a defensible position, but they don’t present it as exploitative in the case of Mascarita Sagrada. They portray him fighting against both regular-sized opponents and little people and the in-ring action and storytelling from what I’ve gathered in these clips were more inspirational. The crowds took them seriously and it was heartwarming seeing the eponymous little sacred mask hanging out with the fans and signing autographs. In my research of Tales of Masked Men, I found out that this wrestler has also done charity work by visiting orphanages and children’s hospitals. I can respect that.
There were some shortcomings in this documentary. I wish they would’ve included some other influential figures in addition to the ones interviewed here. I’m not saying they automatically have to get Rey Mysterio, but they could’ve mixed it up by getting luchadors from America and Mexico who are also well-known. They should’ve also mentioned the various federations involved in the Mexican wrestling scene. To a die-hard wrestling fan who’s aware of the international scene, they will recognize some of the performers and logos, but none of them are mentioned. Salvador Lutteroth was mentioned, but they never brought up CMLL and its history for Lucha Libre. This is something I found out only in my research and I wish they should have brought that up and mentioned other feds like AAA for example. There was one missed opportunity in talking about El Santo’s movies with one of them featuring Mil Mascaras which is a name old-school wrestling fans should know and his nephew Alberto El Patron (or Alberto Del Rio for WWE fans) would be a former WWE World Champion, AAA Word Champion and would hold the Impact World Heavyweight Championship as of this year. This was all stuff that was a part of my studying for this documentary and the world of Lucha Libre and I shouldn’t have to be this exhaustive in looking this stuff up.
Tales of Masked Men was a good surprise as I was binge-watching some documentaries on Netflix. The historical aspects and parallels to theatre were fascinating. The stories from the wrestlers they interviewed were very inspirational as they’ve come from different walks of life. The production is very good as it captures the fast and dramatic action in this world. I was bummed out by some obvious lack of information especially the severe lack of mentioning various federations who’ve specialized in this form of wrestling. If you think pro wrestling is all WWE-related stuff or believe that Lucha Libre is exactly like Nacho Libre, this will change your perception. It was a fun documentary to watch given some of the more serious things I’ve seen recently.
Adjustable Point System:
Add 1 point if you love pro wrestling.
Subtract 3 points if you are super into MMA.
Subtract 2 points if you have set ideas of theatre and stage combat.
-Great production values
-Awesome usage of history and parallels to pre-colonial culture and theatre
-Inspirational stories from the luchadors (Mascarita Sagrada being the most impressive)
-Lack of some important information like some promotions/federations
-Some lack of star power besides the Mexican legends
-Solar Jr.’s story is a bit underdeveloped compared to his father
Final Score: 8/10 points
Content Warning: It’s not really an objectionable documentary. Obviously, there’s the violence aspect, but most of the action is tame like WWE’s current PG product. There is one case of a wrestler showing blood beneath his mask for a couple of seconds and some deaths are mentioned in the documentary. It’s safe for families to watch.
Photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws.