Andrew Parker: So, Jay, what made you take notice that you had a feature length movie here?
Jay Cheel: Well, it started as a short at first. So it was going to be maybe a 15 minute short to put online about Cap’n Video just to introduce people to the show and then as I got to know Ralph and we were doing interviews, stuff started to come out that looked like there was more to the story. I could fill out a feature. Then the 20th anniversary of the Captain thing popped up and now we’re here.
Ralph Zavadil: I introduced him to my mother and my great friend Robert, who built this work of art you see before you here with me, this Cap’n Video cruiser if you will, and Jay just took the ball and just rolled. He interviewed me and found more facets of my life to make it roll. I had no idea what he was doing with this so as I am being interviewed I was thinking it was to go online where 50 people were going to see it. Not 300 sitting in a theatre. I’m sure I would have been just as candid and honest and open with him if I had known it was coming to this.
JC: Robert wouldn’t have.
RZ: [laughs] No. Robert wouldn’t have. He’s kind of a closed and quiet guy when a camera is around. When the camera’s not around he’s, like, LOUD.
AP: You just saw the film for the first time here at Hot Docs. What was it like having to see it for the first time with an audience?
RZ: It was incredible. It was humbling because I am sitting there in the centre of the theatre and there’s a whole balcony of people above me. Jay, for a purpose, kept us from seeing it, plus I didn’t want to before it was on the big screen. It was mind boggling watching my life unfold on screen. All the warts and blemishes. It’s like having your proverbial raincoat pop open. Here I am to the world, you know? It was scary, but the way he put it together was brilliant. I didn’t want people to see me crying, but I sure felt like it.
It was funny because they laughed at all the weird spots. Like when I was doing the intro for (ex-girlfriend) Nancy’s video resume, which I shot at Cable 10, and I’m just saying blahbitty blah, blabbity blah, and then I turn my head and face another camera and it’s got this weird cut. People started laughing there and I didn’t quite get it, but that was just how those things looked back then. I was just being me!
One of the things that I couldn’t believe is there’s this one part, and I don’t want to spoil anything, where people started clapping in the middle of the film and it reminded me of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest where the big Indian throws the water cooler through the f**king window, you know? Talk about f**king goosebumps up my spine.
AP: Beauty Day had it’s world premiere at MoMa in New York. How did that come about?
JC: You know, I don’t even know how it came about. It got passed to them somehow, I think through Telefilm, and it was picked as one of the eight films for the Canadian Front screenings and it went well. I think it was actually pretty appropriate. It’s the kind of film where people might say it’s an odd choice for MoMa, but the movie is about art and filmmaking and creativity so it’s a perfect fit for the museum. There were some older folks in the crowd and there were only two walkouts. [laughs] One was a very slow walkout by a man with a cane, but everyone else seemed to like it, so that was good.
AP: Do you still feel the same way about your old videos now and can you personally see them as art now?
RZ: Honestly, I didn’t really see it as art at the time. I was doing what I thought needed to be done. I was goofing around and playing. Just playing. Not for anyone else’s sake. Not for the adulation because I was anonymous doing it. In hindsight, I still think it’s just a big wank and people want to see it. People want to see someone else being a moron so they can live vicariously through my stupidity, which is something I welcome with open arms and open legs. Charlie Chaplin kinda did the same thing and he was pretty much my hero.
JC: There is really no pretentious element to his whole thing. It just is what it is and this film hopefully just documents the process and a little but of the mindset behind it. His show informs Beauty Day and we play off each other in that way. Ralph did all his own stuff for the 20th anniversary thing, but there are also shots going on during that where we are specifically just filming scenes for the movie. In those moments it was like we were all making a Cap’n Video moment.