Perdida

As a boy, I would’ve loved to have grown up with a family of naked women, robot monsters, Aztec mummies and masked wrestlers. But I’m not Viviana García-Besné.

In Perdida, whose title translates to “lost,” the filmmaker documents three years of learning about — and then coming to grips with — her grandfather and great uncles’ involvement in arguably some of Mexico’s worst movies ever made.

That suspect group includes a subgenre known as “ficheras,” which are raunchy, cabaret-set comedies featuring voluptuous women in various stages of disrobing. They made a fortune, were branded as “pornography,” and then killed the country’s film industry. Go figure.

Perdida will be shown Thursday night at City Arts Center. While the screening is free, it is “for mature audiences only,” thanks to García-Besné’s use of vintage clips — fairly harmless by today’s standards, but a breast is a breast.

Through
interviews with surviving family members of the Calderón film dynasty,
she attempts to ferret fact from fiction; dusty home movies and
handwritten letters help fill in the gaps, as does a third-act raid of a
film vault.

From
theater owners to full-fledged moviemakers beginning in the 1930s, the
Calderón brothers’ story is one of rags to riches to rags. The riches
come after the men discover the value of female nudity, both to fill
seats and create controversy to fill more seats. The profits proved as
substantial as the bosoms.

The brothers’ crooked, oft-controversial path is paved with acts of monopoly, infidelity and forgery, involving personalities like the revolutionary Pancho Villa, actress Lupe Vélez, mambo king Perez Prado, Fantasy Island’s Ricardo Montalbán and the pope.

Unsavory cinema aside, the
Calderón name also appeared on many entries in horror, science fiction
and just plain bizarre. B-movie enthusiasts are likely to know many of
the titles Perdida discusses, from the Aztec Mummy trilogy and 1959’s Santa Claus (later mocked on TV’s Mystery Science Theater 3000) to a franchise starring the silver-masked luchador Santo.

A high point occurs with García- Besné’s search for a lost Calderón film, El Vampiro y El Sexo, aka Santo in the Treasure of Dracula. That’s about as dramatic as Perdida gets;
her documentary is personal and lo-fi, so it’s stripped of traditional
storytelling structure, but its interest to film buffs — especially
those with tastes toward the psychotronic — is undeniable.

Rod Lott

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