Thursday, April 28, 2011

Beauty Day Puts the Jack in Jackass

Beauty Day

Living in Toronto there were several cable access television shows that shaped my teenage years. I fondly recall watching the comedic likes of Tom Green, Ed the Sock, and the Daryn Jones and Morgan “Mista Mo” Smith sketch comedy show, Buzz, before they all achieved mainstream fame on bigger networks. It was these cable access memories of my youth that sparked my interest in Jay Cheel’s directorial debut Beauty Day.

Cheel’s film highlights the life of Ralph Zavadil, who was better known as Cap’n Video to his Southern Ontario fans. Considered a cable access legend in that region, Zavadil’s Cap’n Video show was attempting comedic stunts long before Tom Green and the boys from Jackass came on the scene. The show consisted of one planted camera and Zavadil doing zany stunts including snorting raw eggs up his nose, using alcohol and fire to shave his face, and tobogganing off his parent’s roof in winter with no clothes or toboggan. Although Zavadil garnered minor fame in his area for these comedic segments, it is one near fatal mishap that gets the world taking notice of Cap’n Video.

One of the things that immediately struck me about Ralph Zavadil is how intelligent he really is. It is easy to assume that his idiotic Cap’n Video persona is a close representation of Zavadil, but this could not be further from the truth. Zavadil is an extremely smart man who simply loves life and wanted to live it to the fullest. The fact that he can entertain people in the process is considered a bonus. Zavadil knows that he was doing his stuff prior the success of Jackass, yet he could care less about receiving credit or capitalizing on the fame of the show. As long as people were embracing their inner “nutbar” then he was happy.

Ralph Zavadil is one of those people who you would love to pal around with real life. Cheel does a great job of portraying Zavadil as a man, who above all else, is loyal to friends and family. Some of the most fascinating scenes are not the Cap’n Video footage but the times when Zavadil opens up about his best friend Robert, his family, and his relationship one of his girlfriends, Nancy. The section involving Nancy is especially strong considering how fast Cheel gets you to care so deeply about their relationship.

Despite being a debut film, Jay Cheel directs Beauty Day with the confidence of a veteran filmmaker. His use of vibrant colour throughout the film, especially in the latter half of the film, is a joy to witness. Cheel also never treats his subject, or the viewer, with anything less than respect. Beauty Day could have easily been a one-note joke about how silly Zavadil’s show was, yet he transforms both Zavadil and the Cap’n Video show into so much more. The story never loses the viewers attention and actually makes you want to embrace life by taking more risks. This does not mean you will want to slide off a roof anytime soon, but you will definitely want to strive to achieve greater things in the context of your own life. In Zavadil’s eyes sitting by and watching things happen for others, instead of making them happen for yourself, is the equivalent of death.

Beauty Day is not only one of the highlights of the Hot Docs festival, but it is also one of my favourite films so far this year. It is a film that will not only make you appreciate life, but it will also inspire you to let loose and embrace your inner “nutbar”, something we all need to do more often.


  1. Excellent review,
    I don't often watched documentaries, even though I know I should watch more...
    This one sounds very interesting, I have never heard of the subject matter before though, so I hope that isn't necessary for the enjoyment of the film.

  2. @Jack – The great thing about this film is that it will appeal to both those who enjoy documentaries and those who do not.

    As for the subject matter, you do not need any prior knowledge at all. I knew nothing about Cap n’ Video going in and still found the film fascinating.

  3. Great, well I'll be sure to see this one then!

  4. Superb review...As you know, we agree very strongly on this film (it's my fave from 2011 as well, though I likely haven't seen as many recent releases as you). Just put up my own review last night, but I think you managed to capture the essence of the film better...

    And you are right - you can easily go into this film blind. I really wish I could attend tonight's screening with an audience.

  5. @Bob - I definitely will give your review a read tonight.

    On a unrelated note, I took your advice and started watching the Pusher trilogy last night. I am halfway through Pusher 2 and am enjoying the series quite a bit.


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