If you don’t know cartoonist Ralph Steadman’s satiric and political art, you should. Luckily, the new documentary, “For No Good Reason,” gives you the chance to view many of his fantastic drawings, and discover the backdrop in which they were created. Filmed over the course of fifteen years by acclaimed commercial and music video director Charlie Paul and produced by his wife Lucy Paul, “For No Good Reason,” allows Steadman to speak about his work as well as hear present-day testimonies from friends and colleagues such as Johnny Depp, Terry Gilliam, Richard E. Grant, and Rolling Stone co-founder and publisher, Jann Wenner.
Starting to draw in the 1960’s, and rising to prominence in the 1970’s, British artist Steadman remarks that he really thought he could change the world for the better with his edgy political cartoons. He took a trip to America to do 1000 pictures (photos and drawings) of New York – and found he was particularly drawn to Skid Row, which further fueled his political conscience. Then, Steadman got a call in the middle of the night from Gonzo journalist, Hunter S. Thompson.
Thompson liked Steadman’s work and invited him to travel to Kentucky where Thomson was covering (in his own unique way) the Kentucky Derby for Rolling Stone magazine. Thompson’s words and Steadman’s illustrations presented a picture of the Derby like none other, and soon they were off to cover other notable events, including the Ali – Foreman fight in Zaire, known as “Rumble in the Jungle,” the America’s Cup sailing race, and the Honolulu Marathon. Steadman also collaborated with Thompson on his book, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”
There are legendary stories of crazy Gonzo antics involving Steadman and Thompson and most were fueled by booze. But, Steadman also worked with other creative folks like Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam, actor Richard E. Grant, and even had odd gun fights with William S. Burroughs. Johnny Depp, who acts as the film’s conduit for Steadman’s tales, met the artist during the filming of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” and the two became mutual admirers.
But what’s equally remarkable about the documentary (and believe me Steadman’s stories are indeed wild) is how filmmaker Paul chooses to showcase Steadman’s artistic work. Naturally there are the Steadman drawings themselves, but at times these drawings take on a life of their own becoming fully animated. We even get to watch Steadman’s artistic process. Starting with ink splashes on a blank page, Steadman creates images that come to life with each ink-stroke; it’s as if the ink splash drives Steadman’s creativity as to what to draw instead of the artist driving the ink.
Per the production notes, Paul used a variety of film formats to compose his documentary including 35mm, 16mm, Super 8, digital HD video, and Steadman’s home movies, as well as all stock types, color, black & white and archived footage. Also of note is that a high-res digital camera was positioned above Steadman’s worktable for 10 years to capture Steadman’s ink spats and strokes. Thus in the film, a Steadman drawing comes into fruition in a matter of minutes.
Ralph Steadman is a unique and extraordinary cartoonist and thankfully filmmaker Charlie Paul was able to hang out with Steadman for these past fifteen years in order to create his own art film in which to share with audiences – “For No Good Reason.”
"For No Good Reason" is 88 minutes, Rated R and opens exclusively in Los Angeles at the Nuart Theatre on May 2.