It is rare for two artists, with such wide breadth of acclaimed individual work, to still become so synonymous with one another thanks to their definitive collaborations. For better or worse, British cartoonist Ralph Steadman and American journalist Hunter S. Thompson are one such creative duo.
A worthy subject, Steadman is the focus of the new documentary For No Good Reason, which explores his past work and artistic process. Though the doc is setup as solely about Steadman, the ghost of the eccentric Hunter S. Thompson lingers over the entire film. In fact, one cannot help but to assume the film was made (or at least made popular) because of Thompson’s permeating presence.
American audiences are far more familiar the gonzo journalist himself, mainly because he so famously injected himself into his widely read writings, while Steadman toiled away behind the scenes on the accompanying artwork. And though Steadman’s art was widespread, he is still most recognized for his collaborations with the notorious writer, including the infamous artwork that accompanies Thompson’s seminal piece, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
And it is because of that work (and its subsequent 1998 film adaptation) that got actor Johnny Depp involved in the making of this documentary. Depp not only narrates the film, but also interacts and interviews Steadman about his career and process. Depp, though a great actor, is not the best interviewer and the film struggles to find its way when he is left to his own devices with Steadman.
The film is best when the audience is able to watch Steadman work firsthand, which is a really cool process. The way the film is able to animate his work adds a layer of creativity and entertainment to the experience as well. Also, as expected, Steadman's stories of his experiences with Thompson are highly entertaining, especially his first interactions with him at the 1970 Kentucky Derby. But what is most fascinating is his work outside of he and Thompson’s collaborations – mainly because I (and likely, most people) are not as familiar with it. Steadman is not only an influential artist with a unique process, but also a boundary pushing political artist. This highlights not only one of the best features of this documentary, but documentaries in general – learning something new about an interesting topic.
* * * ½ out of 5 stars
For No Good Reason opens Friday, July 11 at The Theatres at Canal Place with multiple showtimes daily.
For more information on the film, theatre, or showtimes, please visit The Theatres at Canal Place website.
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