Hot Docs Review: Beauty Day

By  · Published on April 30th, 2011

by Lauren Flanagan

So you thought Tom Green and the guys from Jackass were mavericks? You clearly didn’t live in St. Catherines, Ontario in the early to mid-90s. If you had you would know that the original pioneer of self-brutalization television was Ralph Zavadil, better known at the time as Cap’n Video, a hero of cable access television and a serious danger to himself.

Beauty Day is a memoir of sorts. Using a combination of stock and home video footage along with new interviews with Zavadil and his friends and family, director Jay Cheel chronicles the rise and fall of a man who just wanted to make people laugh. Zavadil became a local celebrity when he started filming his ridiculous stunts (snorting raw eggs, jumping through sheds – that sort of thing). Interest was only mild until an ill-fated stunt involving a poorly tied ladder and a cement swimming pool attracted interest from a larger audience. After he recovered from a broken neck, Cap’n Video became a celebrity.

The show was simple enough. Ralph would do everything himself including setting up the camera, performing the stunt, editing the video and so forth. Friends tried to convince him to take it a step further and try to make it more professional but Zavadil refused. If he had there’s no telling how far it could have taken him. But Ralph wasn’t interested in fame – he just wanted to make people laugh and didn’t really care about the rest of it. The show ran for a few years until an unfortunate Easter episode involving an uncooperative rabbit, some adorable puppies and a whole lot of chocolate sauce finally caused the network to shut him down. Now, 20 years later he’s attempting to stage a comeback.

What’s really great about Beauty Day is that Ralph Zavadil is an excellent subject. His persona of Cap’n Video is completely wacky and entertaining (honestly, his gags are side-splittingly funny – YouTube them if you don’t believe me) but the man behind the persona is incredibly candid and reflective about his life. He has no fear of what people will think of him and isn’t afraid to say what he thinks. Does he have regrets? Sure. He wishes he had tied that ladder to the fence a little better and not broken his neck; he wishes he hadn’t missed the first twelve years of his daughter’s life; but overall Ralph Zavadil seems like a pretty content and humble guy.

Jay Cheel has really delivered in this memoir of a television pioneer living his life on the edge. A word of warning though – bring your gag reflex.

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