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Jul 22, 2019
French-born filmmaker Marie Losier returns to the Wex July 26–27 with her latest film, Cassandro, the Exotico!, an intimate portrait of the renowned, openly gay lucha libre (Mexican professional wrestler). Losier has introduced her films at the center numerous times in the past. She's been featured in The Box and worked in the Film/Video Studio, and she was a recipient of a Wexner Center Artist Residency Award in support of her feature The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye (2011).
Director of Film/Video Dave Filipi conducted this interview with Marie via email in anticipation of her visit.
How did you meet Cassandro and how did the idea for a film evolve?
I was in Los Angeles for the release of my previous feature, The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye, and a past friend of mine took me to see “Lucha Vavoom,” a burlesque show with a troupe of wrestlers, whose star was none else than Cassandro. He was the one who told me about the exóticos*. But I really got to know him a few months later, in Mexico, on a sailing boat near a strange, haunted island called The Island of the Dolls in Xochimilco, a Mexico City borough, where we had decided to meet. We talked for hours—for days, actually.
He took me to watch lucha libre matches in the Arena México, where he knew just about everyone. We drooled over those handsome athletic bodies, laughing at ourselves at the same time! He introduced me to his hairdresser in a sketchy neighborhood just outside of Mexico City, where he got his hair permed for hours. He took me to the witches’ market to buy magical medicinal plants. We met his Aztec Indian friends, with whom he sometimes engages in cleansing rituals. I fell in love with his kindness, his eccentricity, his acidic humor, his wit, and, of course, his athletic prowess (he was the World Champion of the National Wrestling Alliance). Those are some of his many contrasts. He’s short and sensitive. And he’s had a hard time getting to where he is now.
In the past, you have often made films about a diverse array of important artists who have worked far outside the boundaries of mainstream culture—Tony Conrad, George Kuchar, and Genesis P-Orridge, to name just three. In that way, your new film with Cassandro fits in nicely with your past body of work. What attracts you to these types of artists and creators?
I am always attracted to free spirits: artists who are extreme and have no fear to create fully even when outside of society’s rules and politics. They are full of life, they are free, even when they fragile and even when, at times too fragile. To make a film with them is a way to support and pay homage to them. Also, they are always hilarious and whimsical and that is the most powerful tool and mark of intelligence to me. There is nothing better than to create and invent a new world and a new approach to life and creation.
They also often create with their bodies, which then become a part of the creation. The body dances, fights, jumps, gets scars, stitches, surgery, transformation…it is like a canvas for many stories.
Cassandro’s world is also a very musical one! It’s a symphony of cries, of bells, of melodies, of kitschy hymns, of different languages (between the raspy American English and the singing Mexican Spanish). Let’s not forget Cassandro’s own voice which resembles that of old storytellers. During his moments of solitude, the still silence of his house carries a completely different resonance after the furious hullabaloo of the combats, and I like this contrast very much! Really, it’s the farthest I’ve been from home, geographically and thematically, but in the end, I think I’m right at the heart of everything that has always interested me. Maybe more than ever.
You continue to work with film, and Cassandro is a blend of existing archive footage and 16mm film. What does 16mm provide to you as a filmmaker that digital video simply does not?
16mm is an essential ingredient of my work, just in the same way as some artists choose to work with oil or watercolor, marble or clay. It determines a certain relationship to things, a texture, a ritual, and also a history. I love all kinds of optical effects, filters, lenses—even kaleidoscopic ones. I love the more artisanal techniques of classic cinema, those of Méliès, of Cocteau, of Jack Smith. To work with 16mm film is to work directly with the stuff of cinema, with the mythology of cinema. But above all else, it determines a certain relationship to whom I’m filming, because most of the time I don’t record sound live. It’s just me and my camera. And I also love the wait before seeing the developed images. To me, it’s the vector, the binder between the other person and myself. Our emotional connection, the beauty, the role playing—everything springs from that. Moreover, Cassandro and I love to dress up and play different characters. That’s an important aspect of our relationship. Most of the times, it’s also an occasion to express intimate and deep-rooted feelings that can’t be voiced, and to transcend those emotions with joy, for example, when he reveals his fear of dying in a sort of tableau vivant of his own funeral.
Yet in this film there is a mix of different media and for once much more synch sound than ever before. I used and edited 16mm film that I shot, video that I shot, archive footage from TV, and Skype video I recorded when talking with Cassandro. I think the film stretches to what medium it needs, when it needs it, and for what the medium offers, and then like a nice composed salad I mix them all together!
You have a unique gift of capturing the intimate and personal in your films. When you are creating a portrait, how much time do you spend with your subject before you start filming? How close of a relationship do you form with your respective subjects?
I spend much time before I film and in order to get close and to love the person who becomes a friend and a character in my film. For Ballad, I spent much time at her home just to listen to her stories and spend time with her, to share daily life. Then I started incorporating my camera and sound recorder, and the film took 7 years to make. Strangely enough, the same amount of time for making Cassandro!
My Tony Conrad portrait took five years, yet our friendship was immense until he passed away. He was a very close friend of mine for 12 years.
I like and need to take time to tell stories, to see time pass on the characters, events, and surprises and also I rarely have much money to make a film so I make it as time goes with a few grants here and there and often working full time or part time on the side!
Do the subjects of your portraits ever play a role in post-production or do you draw a clear line between filming and post?
Never! They never see the film while I am editing and they see the film at the end. It works wonderfully that way and it is the only way I know how to do it. All artists whom I filmed were happy with the result—even madly happy—and trusted me, so they never asked for any control over the post-production.
What was Cassandro’s reaction to the film?
Cassandro saw the film one week before we went to the Cannes Film Festival and he cried, laughed and took me in his arms and said, “Thank you mamacita, it is the best gift you made me and I will tour the film with you and for you,” which he generously did and still does. He has been amazing, and it has been an intense and emotional film trip for him and for me. It takes time for Cassandro to recover, it is a great motivation for his return to the stage and glory and that is fantastic! He has a lot of fans!
*In the world of lucha libre, exóticos are male wrestlers who dress up as women, or sometimes in “drag,”in open resistance to this sport’s coded virility. While not all exóticos claim to be homosexual men, they like to nurture a certain ambiguity. From feathered boas to lacquered hairdos, from sequined dresses to skin-tight suits, no gesture is too extreme. They are kitschy, flamboyant, sometimes provocative, often extremely funny, but nonetheless excellent athletes, strong and shrewd. In such a male-driven and competitive world, exóticos have had to fight for due recognition and acceptance. But in every match, they show that femininity and humor are no hindrances to their ability to crush their opponents.
The first exóticos appeared in the 1940s (with Sterling Davis, aka Gardenia Davis, who would throw gardenias at the public from the ring). But all of them claimed that their ring personas were just theatrics, and not at all a representation of their true identity. It was only in the mid-1980s that two Luchadores known as exóticos came out publicly as homosexuals. This effected a change in the way exóticos were perceived by their audience, and in turn, contributed to a more general acceptance of the category.
One of their most defining characteristics is that the majority of exóticos doesn’t wear masks. This choice makes them unique in the world of Mexican professional wrestling, of which the most recognizable symbol is that of the masked warrior. It is also a way of celebrating their true identities, and of setting an example to younger generations.
Images courtesy of Film Movement.