St. Catherines, Ontario resident Ralph Zavadil was the creative genius behind a mid-90s public access show known as Cap’n Video. Zavadil served as a precursor to the Johnny Knoxvilles and the Bam Margeras of the world by performing a wide range of edgy and idiotic stunts like attempting to ski on clotheslines and eating whipped cream and dog hair pies. Even if you don’t know his name or face, you may have seen the most infamous stunt of his career that led to him breaking his neck. In the greater context of Ralph’s life, it was really just one more thing for the man to overcome.
Director Jay Cheel creates a straightforward profile of Ralph’s amazing life in his documentary Beauty Day. The film looks at Ralph’s childhood battle with cancer, to his sadly doomed romance with a female motocross rider, to his becoming a martyr in the war against bad taste in a time when things were about to get much worse. With this being his first feature, Cheel has created a masterful film with big laughs and an even bigger heart. Beauty Day is quite possibly the best film about filmmaking since American Movie, and the best portrait of the life of a single quirky character since Grizzly Man. It’s just that good.
What makes Ralph such an interesting character to follow is that he is a person who has lived a tumultuous personal life who has no time or desire for personal introspection. For Ralph, life will simply go on no matter what it throws at him, and he will use his sense of humour and his own personal ingenuity to get through any hardship. No wound is too big for him that it can’t be healed with time or a mug full of cracked eggs to snort. It is quite possibly the best lesson anyone can learn. Probably not in the exact same way as Ralph teaches it, but there are lessons here that can be useful to anyone.
In addition to all the laughs and heartfelt moments, Cheel has produced a gorgeous looking film. His love of the works of Werner Herzog and Errol Morris shows through in his use of interviews to tell an objective story that is largely free of any psychoanalytical perspectives that Ralph himself would have willfully avoided. Cheel’s camerawork and editing belie a talent wiser than his young career would show on paper. He also asserts himself as an almost Scorsese-like master of using a popular soundtrack to enhance a story. I have never looked more forward to a second feature from a director like I look forward to Cheel’s follow-up.
Without any further statements that could see like hyperbole no matter how truthful they may be, I shall end by saying that Beauty Day is a must see and one of the best films of the year. In an opening weekend crowded by the likes of Speilberg and Malick, this is the film to see simply because Super 8 and Tree of Life will be around in theatres for weeks and months to come. It is crucial that smaller films like this get all the support they can in their opening weekend. Plus, it works really great with a large crowd of people. To call Beauty Day a crowd pleaser doesn’t even scratch the surface of this wonderful film.
Cast: Ralph Zavadil
Directed by: Jay Cheel