“I was dealing with human beings, and they’re a pretty fucked up breed.”
It probably wouldn’t surprise a lot of people if it were revealed that Ralph Zavadil, the source of the above quotation, weren’t human after all. (He made a name for himself by snorting raw eggs, squirting chocolate syrup on the backs of puppies and then licking it off and performing dozens of idiotic and dangerous stunts like “rooftop tobogganing” and “clothesline skiing.”) But after the revelations and insights of “Beauty Day,” a documentary about his life and times, it could be argued that Ralph Zavadil is a actually more human than the rest of us.
Better known to his fans as Cap’n Video, the unhinged host of The Cap’n Video Show, which disturbed and delighted cable access television viewers in St. Catharines, Ontario from 1990 -1995, Zavadil was the pioneer of gross-out, stunt-based reality television. As the film’s tagline states, “Before there was Jackass… before there was Tom Green… there was Ralph Zavadil.” And considering Ralph shot, starred in, edited and produced the viral video-style show himself, YouTube could be added to that list too.
For five years Ralph cultivated a small but loyal following in the sleepy suburban region surrounding Niagara Falls. It wasn’t until he broke his neck during an especially nonsensical stunt, which involved a cement swimming pool and a poorly secured ladder, that he received international attention. That, coupled with the outrage of animal rights groups angry with his treatment of a rabbit during his Easter show, got the Cap’n kicked off the air. 15 years later, Zavadil strapped on his goggles, powered up his light bulb helmet and packed the explosives for one last hurrah.
“Beauty Day” is director Jay Cheel’s first feature film, but it feels like the work of a much more experienced filmmaker. Clever edits, creative shots and a gorgeous, crisp image uncommon in the independent documentary world make “Beauty Day” stand out immediately from the bloated pack of ugly Morgan Spurlock imitators. Not only is it a lovely piece of visual filmmaking, it’s also embellished with an, at times, lyrical approach to telling the story. It’s both kinetic and meandering, peppy and tranquil. The camera never gets ahead of its subject and lets the story itself dictate the cinematography.
Zavadil, a funnier, less self-obsessed version of David Lee Roth, is the type of subject filmmakers dream about. Reticence is not part of the Cap’n's DNA. Coolly reclined with a cigarette and a beer, the arms of his light bulb helmet spiking out like antlers, Zavadil is just as comfortable confessing his character flaws and regrets as he his talking about snorting raw eggs. And his stubborn optimism in the face of crushing adversity is inspiring.
Destruction played a major role in The Cap’n Video Show. Whether it was setting a Christmas tree on fire, razing a backyard shed, demolishing what seemed like dozens of old television sets with a sledgehammer or methodically and incessantly abusing his own body, Zavadil took intense pleasure in making mayhem. But, considered in the context of the idyllic, revelatory “Beauty Day,” it becomes clear that The Cap’n Video Show was really about creation. More than just a spectacle, Cap’n video became the outlet through which pencil pushers and cubicle captives could, once a week, experience a world of zaniness and freedom, even if it meant watching a lunatic smash a toilet.
“Beauty Day” is a genuinely funny, affecting and poetic character piece about an extraordinary character, who managed to find the humanity in the absurd, and make a lot of people laugh along the way.
To find out more about “Beauty Day” visit the official website. Watch the trailer below: