Reel Life: Beauty Day, directed by Jay Cheel

Review by Jonathan Rocks

cover of beauty day featuring picture of Ralph Zavidil in helment and goggles

Beauty Day, directed by Jay Cheel, was released in 2010.

Director Jay Cheel’s debut film, Beauty Day, introduces audiences to the lively and entertaining Ralph Zavidil. Better known to Canadian audiences as his alter ego Cap’n Video, Zavadil was the director, producer and star of a Canadian cable access show during the early 90s.

The Cap’n Video Show was in many ways a spiritual successor to the later, much more successful series Jackass. Cap’n Video would perform stunts ranging from snorting raw eggs out of a beer mug to smashing old televisions with a sledgehammer. And while not necessarily highbrow fare, there was an endearing, Lo-Fi charm to the Cap’n and his antics, which eventually escalated to increasingly dangerous physical stunts. Take for instance the time Zavadil set his face on fire in a bit he dubbed the “instant razor.” As common sense dictates, not all of these stunts went as planned, but therein lies the reason much of his audience tuned in. In perhaps his most infamous stunt, Zavadil attempted to take the cover off of his pool by climbing a 12-foot ladder and just diving in on top of it—a rather simple premise. Unfortunately, the ladder wasn’t properly secured and he missed the pool, landing instead on a concrete deck. Zavadil ended up with a fractured neck and a long, painful recovery. Ironically, it was during this time that the footage of his fall went viral on television and, eventually, the Internet, giving him more exposure than ever.

In the hands of a lesser filmmaker, Zavadil’s tragic accident may have been the sole focus of the film. But Cheel has a keen eye not only for a strong narrative, but also for beautiful, often touching images (Cheel also served as the film’s cinematographer and editor.) Rather than linger on the sort of schadenfreude that the popularity of the pool video brought about, Cheel gives a look beyond the shtick of Cap’n Video, to the man for whom the zany antics became an art form. It was only after he was forced to put the show on permanent hiatus that he realized his alter ego had provided him a necessary creative release that he would sorely miss.

The product of a difficult childhood, Zavadil maintains an infectiously positive outlook, even in the face of having lost not only his show, but most of what was important to him. However, the one element of Zavadil’s life that he clearly wishes to recapture is the sheer thrill of creating his own brand of art and making something that, in his words, “brought the idiocity to the idiociters.” And this is where the dramatic arc of the story is most clear—whether or not there is still a place for the Cap’n in a world desensitized and over-saturated with so many home grown stunt performers  on sites like YouTube. Would people still tune in and watch the Cap’n like they used to? Does Zavadil care if people watch? Did he ever care?

Beauty Day is certainly an uplifting film, but not only because of the positivity of the film’s indefatigable star. This is an engaging portrait of an artist whose art form was both unique in its execution and a uniquely fulfilling personal endeavor. Witnessing the resurrection of Cap’n Video reminds us that art can do as much to uplift and heal the soul of the artist as it does their audience.

Jonathan Rocks, Columnist

Jonathan Rocks is a screenwriter, animal lover and willing counter-point to almost any argument. He earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University, and his screenplay Luke Whimsey is currently in development at Triboro Pictures. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife Diana and their cat, Mimmy.

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  • Jon

    Here is a link to the trailer for the film “Beauty Day.”

    http://youtu.be/honNjOY9QRY

  • Hayley LeMay

    Great review – I live documentaries and this sounds like a good one. I certainly have a better understanding and more respect for these kind of performance artists after reading your piece.