Beauty Day Jay Cheel
Published May 26, 2011While I'm not sure I'd have the patience to sit through every episode of Cap'n Video, there is something almost noble about the sheer pointlessness of Ralph Zavadil's '90s cable access show from St. Catharines.
On a weekly basis, Zavadil would snort eggs, toboggan almost naked off a snow-covered roof, jump off telephone poles into his shed, light himself on fire and lick chocolate sauce off puppies (the latter stunt getting him in trouble with animal rights activists), all in the guise of "Cap'n Video," sort of a Pee-wee Herman meets Bobcat Goldthwait meets Johnny Knoxville daredevil. In one episode, he attempts to jump off a ladder into a pool with the cover still on it, but lands on the concrete instead. He broke his back on that one. Such is the price of art.
The Cap'n (who speaks in a near-unintelligible squeaky voice, drives a motorized scooter and wears ludicrous helmets with extended lights) is a man without anxiety, neuroses, internal monologue, a past, a future or any motivation, apart from finding out how cool it would be to light one's face on fire. He's a barely sketched, truly inexplicable force of nature made all the more ridiculous by Zavadil's sub-rudimentary skills as director, editor and cameraman (the show was shot on video, in static compositions in Zavadil's backyard and edited on a VCR).
In Beauty Day, a documentary about the man and his show, Zavadil seldom delves into self-analysis (his most frequent remark is, "Ah, who cares?"), and he doesn't offer any high-falutin' explanations of his artistic intent, which is probably how it should be.
The slick, likeable documentary lets the affable, perpetually beer-swigging Zavadil and the brave Cap'n speak for themselves through extensive interviews and plenty of footage from the show. The film gains some dramatic weight from Zavadil's near-death experience with the pool stunt and his career-derailing pot bust, and also follows the filming of an as-yet-unseen 20th anniversary special, during which I'm happy to report the Cap'n doesn't seem to have aged or matured at all.
Mostly, Beauty Day is as unpretentious and irrepressibly enjoyable as Cap'n Video itself. The Hot Docs program notes describe Zavadil as a "Herzogian" protagonist, which sounds a little grand, but it must be said that his achievements are at least as worthwhile and rational as Timothy Treadwell's. (Films We Like)