By Elias Savada.
The smog hangs lightly over the partly cloudy skies of Mexico City as this story begins. A guitar with a Latin beat grabs the soundtrack. Trumpets blare. People walk the streets munching on tacos. The camera catches a sidewalk display with garish magazine covers adorned with body builders (young and not-so-young), and a wall outside the Arena Mexico is postered with graphic artwork announcing forthcoming matches for all things Lucha Libre, the south-of-the-border equivalent of the American professional wrestling craze. This freestyle sport/escapist entertainment features hulks (luchadores), many in colorful, Aztec-themed costume attire and masked like legendary superheroes.
Who’s not to say they have supernatural powers? Heck, one even looks like a Smurf (Kemonito!), a “mini” in this world, one of the smaller players who are big crowd pleasers. Among the stars and legends (some gringos, too) profiled in this behind-the-scenes documentary are bleach-blond Shocker a.k.a El 1000% Guapo, Blue Demon, Jr., California family man John “Strongman” Andersen, Fabian El Gitano, Julio Cesar Rivera, Arkangel, Tony “Ulises” Salazar, Faby Apache, Sexy Star, Ultiimo Guerrero, Gigante Bernard, and El Hijo del Perro Aguayo.
The gut(s) and the glory hang loose in the new documentary Lucha Mexico, a 4-years-in-the-making, 105-minute feature (in English and Spanish, with English subtitles) directed, shot, and edited by Alexandria “Alex” Hammond (also the producer) and Ian Markiewicz (also the writer), which had its U.S. premiere recently in the Jock Docs section at DOC NYC. It’s a nice ambling piece geared toward sports fans and Lucha Libre devotees.
For the folks like me, where the world of high-decibel wrestling is as distant as Pluto, the filmmakers do provide the basics and the background to the sport and its unusual set of warriors. The wrestlers are usually identified as técnicos (technicians) or rudos (rude ones), i.e. costumed vs. well-oiled plain wrapper. Good vs. Evil. They are often aligned with either the World Council Wrestling (CMLL — Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre in the original Spanish) or AAA Lucha Libre. Each has its own set of oddball characters (including some just for kids) and press conference shenanigans. You’ll find women and cross-dressers in the ring, too. All shapes and sizes parade by. Many of the stars are sons of the sport’s first legends. They became wrestlers to impress and honor their fathers. Lots of nostalgia. Fun for all ages.
There are also extreme hardcore matches organized by Perros Del Mal, with guys batting each other of the head with large metal food platters, Corona trademark emblazoned chairs, barbed wire, and push pins! This is blood sport. “This is very dangerous; you don’t play around with it,” offers up Halloween, one of the independent combatants.
The viewer learns how much of a choreographed spectacle this is. Big crowds welcome the antics. Bodies fly across the ring. And they soar out into the crowd. They punch. They kick. They spin one another like helicopters. Pyrotechnics burst forth. Loud music rocks the seats. Everything seems perfectly rehearsed. Just like the pizzazz in its American WWE counterpart.
The pluses: Well seasoned bodies. Fame and fortune. Lots of hoopla. Adoring fans who traipse to the various fairs and expos, where autographs, and all measure of paraphernalia are available. And major sponsors (Corona, Sherwin-Williams, etc.) and cable network coverage.
Some have starred in movies: there’s a corny clip of Blue Demon (the late father of the Jr. in this film) in 1970’s El Mundo de los Muertos (The World of the Dead), which is but one of over two dozen films he appeared in, many with Santo, the legendary masked wrestler.
The minuses: Loneliness. Battered bodies. Broken ribs. Scars. Severed tendons. Physical and emotional stress. Death. Among the “in memory of” end credit there are two major cast members who died before the film’s final bell. The aches and pains reflect versions of a real Randy Robinson, not the fictionalized anti-hero of Mickey Rourke seen in 2008’s The Wrestler.
Lucha Mexico competently captures the nostalgic spectacle of this Mexican sport with vibrant glee. It may be a rambling journey, but it offers up an infectious energy and a behind-the-ropes look at its legendary heroes. It’s quite a party!
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the new horror film German Angst and co-author, with David J. Skal, of Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning.