Not far below the skin of every mature person is a raging, nonsensical beast of pure impulse. One which usually doesn’t show up until each thread of control is unraveled. Or after they’ve annihilated a row of drinks. Some people, however, are much more comfortable with their wild child, and in a new media savvy world they’re recorded, and later seen, these folks can be found at practically every turn. From Knoxville and his Jackass troupe to a kid secretly being recorded, shirtless and flipping out over a World of Warcraft suspension. But before there was a guarantee that every piece of footage would have an audience, Ralph Zavadil would probably still have subjected himself to documented, self-inflicted humiliation. In the St. Catherines area, he was known as local TV spirit Cap’n Video. If he saw a post, he’d climb it and then jump from it. See a wall? He’d run into it. If he saw a raw egg, he’d eat it through his nose. In Beauty Day, the audience gets a thorough profile of a semi-retired goof, long after his raid on the airwaves but still more than ready to slip back into the wacky-tight-pants.
There’s a misconception that his folly pool-sheet jump, which ended with his face meeting the pavement and a broken neck, ended his career. Not at all, it was simply his firmest hand shake with infamy (or at least Real TV.) Before then, Zavadil was a radioactive rubber ball, who filmed himself spontaneously jumping from high locations, subjecting his face to foods and oozes or zipping about on his homemade motorized skate deck. But no party lasts forever. While the attention of his ill-conceived dive ushered in opportunities, the steady build up of opponents and concern over his amplitude of miscalculated stunts and pot busts led the small town hero of television to eventually fizzle out, forcing him to face the only thing that really seems to make his stomach churn. Normalcy.
Film is no stranger to the non-conformist card, and between the tropes of anti-heroes and the high school outcasts who dream of replicating them, profiling someone who is “normaphobic” doesn’t sound like a fresh idea. But Beauty Day may be the first, if not strongest case, because it recognizes its effect on a real life person, not some dramatic excuse to cause trouble. Zavadil recalls a rather extreme falling out with a regular job and life, one which, believe it or not, left him in worse condition than a lifestyle of falling through shed roofs. Through this, you aren’t just seeing footage of a guy with a sadistic self-deprecating sense of humour on behalf of director Jay Cheel, you’re seeing a sudden epiphany of a born-to-be weirdo, and the nature of Ralph’s evolution isn’t necessarily limited to off-kilter antics.
What’s fascinating is how much Zavadil films himself in general. He introduces the viewer to his video tape storage room, lined wall to wall with cassettes. Throughout you see the rough cut VHS footage, not just from his TV face, but personal adventures as well, most notably a definitive road trip with a track-driving ex.
When the time comes for Zavadil to celebrate his alter-ego’s birthday, his snap-back into the old ways seems so natural. Even those close to him, his mother and best friend, previously responding to his lifestyle in humorously mixed ways, seem neither surprised or hesitant to support when he slides back on the goggles and spandex. Blooming again, Ralph Zavadil becomes Cap’N Video, spreading his wings and flying (literally) like the free bird he is. Often the Cap doesn’t do things the smartest or safest way, and at one moment my Dad, who I saw the film with, reeled in his chair and squealed, “Euugh, why didn’t he just use sugar glass?!” The difference between Cap’N Video and the Jackasses, Dudesons and YouTube phenoms we’ve all become familiar with is Video’s urgent sense to do something, fast, satisfyingly, regardless of impact. Perhaps the lack of punning or discursive set-ups to stunts, stood in by a gross, foreign, location-less accent rambling about the “beauty day” is just another display of how much of his prime he made up on the spot.
Never does Zavadil, Cheel or anyone caught on film bother defending, justifying or make pale reasoning out of Cap’N Video’s cult-pop nonsense. You simply have to personally know and feel the tug of insanity, and while that may not make you eat dog hair, you can probably understand the appeal of throwing a pillow at someone across the couch when there’s nothing better to say.