Title: Beauty DayDirector: Jay Cheel
Plot: Documentary about Ralph Zavadil better known for his alter-ego “Cap’n Video” whose show on the local Candian cable station saw him performing various outlandish stunts years before the likes of “Jackass” and Tom Green only for his show to get axed after an ill advised Easter special. Now he plans to make a comeback twenty years later but is there still a place for him and his unique brand of anarchic comedy.
Review: While his show might never have made it over to the UK the legacy of “Cap’n Video” certainly did thanks to appearances on clip shows and certainly for myself through the tape trading channels where recordings of his show featuring him constantly finding new and ever more unique ways to potentially maim himself as he performed stunts such as tobogganing off the roof of his house and most cringingly his attempt to take his pool cover off by jumping off a ladder only to land on his head which is also the clip that the documentary chooses to open with. Somehow despite breaking his neck attempting this stunt Zavadil not only survived but would go on undeterred with performing these stunts until the cancellation of his show.
I think one of the most surprising things about this documentary is not only the fact that Zavadil is still alive but just how grounded he comes across here, talking openly about his life and family aswell as the history of the “Cap’n Video” while seemingly never having a bad word to say about anyone. Zavadil here comes off here as a likable guy who battled alcoholism caused by his attempts to deal with his mundane work at the local GM plant. It would however be his video company which consisted of him and his camera and a helmet with lights strapped to it (instant lighting baby) which also had the tendency on occasion to electrocute him which soon saw him drifting into making his stunt tapes.
For those unfamiliar with “Cap’n Video” there is certainly plenty of footage to enjoy here, much of it seemingly coming from Zavadil’s master tapes as stunts often end with relived at having survived another of his misguided stunts and yet he comes back for more the reason why though is never clear especially when Zavadil openly expresses his disdain for fame seekers and as the audience all we can assume is that it’s purely his love of entertaining that keeps him going. That being said it would have been nice to have actually been given some kind of insight into what makes a guy set fire to his face as seen with his “Razor in a bottle” stunt.
While the main interest here is certainly the “Cap’n Video” parts of the documentary the parts concerning his former girlfriend Nancy Dewar whose motorcycle crash due to failed brakes he still feels responsible for having been her mechanic at the time and its touching to see them reconnect years later much like his daughter who he didn’t meet until she was twelve. All these segements really round out his character and never feel like filler much like when he talks fondly about his father who it seems may surprisingly have provided much of the inspiration for “Cap’n Video” even if he perhaps takes things to a more extreme level.
The climax of the film seeing Zavadil putting together his anniversary show while clearly not having lost his lust for his insane stunts as we see him putting together a new showcase for the local cable network. But in these days of heavy censorship and certainly in the aftermath of the numerous copycat attempts that “Jackass” inspired during its original run on MTV is there still a place for him and if not where does he go from here?
A highly upbeat and fast paced documentary which provides a fitting portrait of this cult hero whose legacy I thought had been lost like so much 90’s nostalgia and yet here is fondly celebrated even if it doesn’t go as deep as I would have liked to have seen with director Cheel seemingly happy to just play the onlooker and let Zavadil guide the film than try and figure out why he still feels this urge to constantly put himself through these stunts with only Zavadil’s mother Barbara and ex-girlfriend Nancy to really give any kind of outside perspective. Ultimatly this is worth watch for those familiar with “Cap’n Video” or for the “Jackass” fans who want to see the man who inspired it all.