The Legend of the Mask (La Leyenda de una Mascara, 1991)

Note: Hi! This is Mike Q, and I’m not the one who usually writes here. I got this guest-spot because Katy’s fallen behind in writing up movies of late, so I’ve been called in to do some of the titles she doesn’t especially want to deal with.

Legend of the MaskWhen I first ran into mention of Legend of the Mask a few years back, it was described off-handedly as “the Citizen Kane of lucha libre movies”. “Why not?”, I thought, and since the price was right, and the DVD had English subtitles, I gambled a stamp and bought a copy. It seemed like a potentially good gamble if done right — I’m always hungry for superhero flicks that have something to say — and like an amusing curiosity even if it didn’t (something along the lines, perhaps, of Mil Mascaras: Resurrection). So there it sat on the shelf, waiting for the right moment to get watched.

I don’t know if it was that Citizen Kane comparison, or the years of anticipation and latent potential, but though Legend of the Mask was strong and well-done, my hopes were too high to meet well what we actually watched. For starters, that Citizen Kane thing was almost too accurate — Legend takes its narrative cues almost point-for-point from the Welles film until its final act, to the point where it was somewhat distracting. A shabby, drunken lout of an investigative sports reporter gets assigned to write a deep profile of the recently-deceased masked wrestling legend El Angel Enmascarado, a pastiche of the real-life El Santo, perhaps the world’s best known Mexican wrestler. As our intrepid reporter looks into the loose ends of El Angel’s life — The manager/agent who discovered an idealistic young wrestler and convinced him to mask up to re-invent himself, the shady comic-book publisher who saw a way to turn the cult star larger than life, the b-movie maker who made him Mexico’s number one star, the buxom nightclub performer who he made tabloid headlines with — we put together not only El Angel’s story — and with it see the hopes, dreams, and feat of clay that all-too-commonly motivate and bring down celebrities in these sorts of films —  but also slowly get a sense of the reporter’s investment in all of this; how his fandom is adding on yet another layer of color to the whole affair.

Of course (of course!), there’s more to the death of El Angel than meets the eye, and all the nastiest parts of El Angel’s story are still very much alive. In the final act, everything hits the fan, and we’re in a really different movie than what’s come before — a kind of pulp soup, heavy on the paranoia, and the gothic/noir/funnybook imagery that makes me sit up and grin — shades of something like a live-action Richard Sala comic strip. I wish, in fact, that the movie that had come before had better set up the eye-popped breathlessness that it concludes with, and in doing so, it might have reached a sort of Ken Russell place in relation to its material: equal measure winking dismay in its weaknesses and yet intense, bursting, almost inarticulate love for them at the same time. Instead, once the final twist comes atop the roiling chaos of mashed-together imagery in the climax, I was left thinking that there’d been a missed opportunity. Do the reporter’s investigations (and fandom) amount to the same thing as the crimes he was accused of committing? That particular nail is never really hit with the force that so many others are here, leaving the sense that this affair ended with a whimper when it really seemed to have wanted to end with a body slam.

If you want a “smart” or insightful take on the old chestnuts of Mexican wrestler superheroes versus vampires, Aztec mummies, or mad scientists, this unfortunately isn’t your stop. If, though, you’re more interested in the bugs that are hiding underneath the edifice of cultural mythology, this one might tickle your fancy. Just, you know, don’t believe all the hype!

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