Every Reason to See “For No Good Reason”
At The Theatre with Audrey Linden
I attended a screening with a Q and A of “for No Good Reason” by the L A Times Indie Series at the Sundance Cinemas in West Hollywood. This Sony Pictures Classic was a surprise for me, and it turned out to be a marvelous creative endeavor with fabulous, inventive directing and cinematography by Charlie Paul. The music by Ed Harcourt and Sache Skarbek gave an aliveness to the film. There was a charming song “I Love” sung by Tason Mraz. This documentary of the British political cartoonist, social commentator, writer, artist Ralph Steadman was chock full of his work, some of which came dramatically to life via animation. He was a major contributor to the New York Times and Rolling Stone and is the last of the Gonzo visionaries.
The film, produced by Lucy Paul, was fifteen years in the making and was first shown in 2013 in the Toronto International Film Festival in the “Mavericks” programme. It will open in theatres in the United States May 1st.
The animation of some of the drawings was astounding to see as they literally leapt off the pages. The documentary’s journey begins with Steadman’s friend, actor Johnny Depp approaching the artist’s home in England. Depp was there to lend celebrity status to the film, and even though he is a friend and admirer of the prolific Steadman, and utilized his works, his presence really was not necessary. Their camaraderie was not sparkling, and Depp seemed awkward at times as if not knowing exactly what to do. Depp's role served as the focus as an audience to the story that unraveled as he made comments. Steadman had illustrated Hal Wilner and Johnny Depp’s “Anthology of Songs, “Rogues Gallery: Pirate Ballads, and Sea Songs”, and he also sang on that album. Though Depp’s presence gave Steadman someone to bounce off of, Steadman’s works are so alive, vivid and compelling that I think the documentary would have worked on the merit of Steadman’s life and works alone.
The film shows Depp, and therefore the audience, how Steadman, in his studio, confronted with a blank page creates something out of nothing. He tosses splotches of India Ink on his paper and watches as shapes inspire him to create. He does not dictate the works; they dictate to him. This is the mark of a great artist. And, indeed, we see a series of self-portrait works of Rembrandt, who inspired Steadman and Da Vinici. I so enjoyed seeing the succession of self-portraits that Rembrandt did that showed his progression into old age. That was fascinating. And, Steadman got the idea to do a book on Da Vinci as if Da Vinci, himself had written it. It was entitled, “I, Da Vinci”. We saw Ralph Steadman, complete in a Da Vinci wig, trying to fly and use a glider as he recreated some of the great Da Vinci’s ideas. Much of the humor came through in these delightful and fun images. Steadman, indeed, paid homage to his mentors. Another artist-mentor we saw footage on was Pablo Picasso.
And, the Ralph Steadman who explored flying with the Da Vinci wig on was a different Steadman than the younger Steadman who came to New York to document the ghettos and poverty. It is interesting that Ralph Steadman wanted to change the world through his art work. He chronicled poverty in the streets of New York in the early 70’s and his images were stark, graphic and at times disturbing. He wanted to show life as it is and not some pretty pictures. If his goal was to shock and startle his audience, he succeeded. He went on to do political satire through his images and showed us compelling images of President Richard Nixon’s Watergate. Director Charlie Paul interspersed Steadman’s work along with footage of Nixon. The juxtaposition of film images and Steadman’s art work blended nicely to make profound statements. We also saw Steadman’s series of work on war, blending again with graphic and unsettling film images and how he translated those into his artwork. The blending was seamless and worked so well, I was hardly aware of the transitions.
It was fortuitous that Steadman was called by American journalist, Hunter S. Thompson, to illustrate ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”, “Fear and Loathing on The Campaign Trail 1972”, the Kentuck Derby for Scanlan’s magazine, and the “Honolulu Marathon” for “Running” magazine. That first phone call from Thompson changed Steadman’s life and brought his work to the attention of the public in the United States. The documentary shows Steadman and Thompson frequently drinking, and besotted exchanging words. Thompson is captured showing his anger, and Steadman recounts how he felt mistreated and unappreciated. They would argue as to whether people read Thompson due to Steadman’s illustrations and vice versa. Ultimately, the two parted ways before Thompson took his life.
There was great footage from this period of Steadman’s life, where he was under the influence of Thompson. There were images and commentary from “Rolling Stone’s” editor. Those images were distorted in the vein of Steadman’s own artwork. Very inventive! I wondered how much of this clever distortion was director Charlie Paul’s idea and how much was Ralph Steadman’s. The documentary was shot and edited much in the style of Ralph Steadman’s own work. Just as Steadman distorted images, so did Charlie Paul. I have not seen such creative cinematography and editing in a documentary. It worked beautifully to enhance the subject matter! It was a perfect marriage and blend of images.
Thanks to the Los Angeles Times Indie Film Series and Times writer Mark Olsen, who was the host for the Q and A with Lucy Paul and Charlie Paul for tonight's screening. I highly recommend this film, whether you are a follower of Ralph Steadman or not. Look for it in your local listings starting May 1st.