Canadian Front 2011 at MoMA, New York
A profile of early 1990s Niagara Falls cable access daredevil Cap’n Video, aka Ralph Zavadil, BEAUTY DAY reveals the eccentric life of a true original, with its peaks and valleys punctuated by outlandish stunts and a cheerfully Type A demeanor.
A session of nocturnal cable access channel-surfing in Niagara Falls, Ontario in the early 1990s would have certainly yielded a one-man precursor to Johnny Knoxville and Jack-Ass known as Cap’n Video. With the trademark utterances “yeeoww!,” “beauty day,” and the occasional “don’t try this at home!,” the muscular, frizzy-haired daredevil—think David Lee Roth mated with Pee-wee Herman—would do things like smash TV screens, eat his dog’s shaved hair with whipped cream, zip around on a skateboard powered by a chainsaw motor and, his specialty, perform alarmingly ill-conceived stunts, many of them in sleet and snow and from great heights, with names like “clothesline skiing” and “rooftop tobogganing.” “I’m not trying to kill myself,” former General Motors millright and full-time Type A personality Ralph Zavadil points out 20 years later, “I’m just trying to make people laugh.” Or, as his clearly confused mother Barbara remembers, “Oh my God, I hope nobody knows that’s my son.”
One fateful day in 1995, faced with a looming deadline, Cap’n Video improvised the removal of his in-ground pool cover by jumping on it from a rickety ladder leaning against his fence. He missed the pool and broke his neck: “Unfortunately,” he says now, “I didn’t think it through.” The video, however, made the rounds of all the home movie TV shows of the day, which still yields the occasional autograph seeker. Ralph recovered and went back to an eventful life of puttering around and growing marijuana—until that is, a 20th anniversary Cap’n Video special beckons. Why should we care about Ralph Zavadil?
In the tradition of WINNEBAGO MAN, Tom Green and all the other amateur transgressives whose early embrace of video allowed them to act out their eccentricities and thus pioneer what’s now known as reality television, Ralph Zavadil is us, and we are Ralph Zavadil. Which makes BEAUTY DAY a pertinent piece in the puzzle of electronic archaeology.