A splat erupts from the tip of Ralph Steadman’s brush, the artist who gained fame as the illustrator of Gonzo. The smoke to Hunter S. Thompson’s cigarette, the burn to his whiskey, the shell to his bullet, Steadman is primarily known for his role as a member of the infamous duo. In Charlie Paul’s new documentary filmed over the span of 15 years, For No Good Reason, we see Steadman without his partner in crime, but alone, discussing the connection between creativity and self-reflection, the importance of satire as a formidable weapon in culture, and romanticizing the good ol’ days alongside one of the literary giants of the 20th century. A charming, bumbling Brit accustomed to taking second stage to Hunter comes to the forefront and explains what it means, for him, to be an artist.
For No Good Reason explores Steadman’s famed friendship with Hunter S. Thompson and his ambitions as an artist. Present-day scenes with Steadman and Depp chit-chatting over smokes and coffee and refined things are spliced with archival footage of Thompson in the 70s (i.e. explosive, most certainly drunken voicemails left by Hunter on Steadman’s phone). This film is far from being simply a profile about Steadman. Hunter’s ghost lingers in the seams of the entire 89 minutes, mentioned almost throughout the entirety of the film. Steadman reminisces about his beginnings in Britain, his first trip to New York, but attributes his awakening as an artist to Hunter and their first trip together to the Kentucky Derby (“The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved”). It’s Steadman’s description of that fire found in Thompson that is missing in so many creative people. As an artist, naturally, it’s important to be talented, but it takes dedication, constant practice and a certain flair to achieve success.
The entire film is spilling over with Steadman’s work. Paul even had some of his illustrations animated as transitional sequences between scenes. The illustrations came to life in an almost nightmarish sort of fashion… it was fantastic. If you enjoy Ralph’s work then, naturally, you’ll enjoy this movie. For No Good Reason grants us access inside the artist’s creative process. Each artist creates and works in different ways, so to gain entry to the studio of one of Gonzo’s finest had a certain shine to it. Similar to seeing the inside of Hemingway’s writing den or touching the walls at Abbey Road Studios, Steadman’s studio has seen a tremendous amount of quality drawings produced within its walls.
Most of the film is locked in dialogue between Depp and Steadman.There are, however, contributions from others such as: Terry Gilliam (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), Richard E. Grant (Withnail and I) and also some interesting footage of Ralph on a gun trip with famed Naked Lunch author William S. Burroughs. Through interviews and statements made by those mentioned, we begin to understand the enormous influence Steadman has been as a counterculture figure. His art, and the implicit meanings hidden in the background, were groundbreaking in cartooning as cultural weapons, satirical cannonballs. “I learnt to draw… to try and change the world”, says Steadman. He used his cartoons as political weapons, bringing to the foreground what the collective masses were thinking through a maniacal, darkly comedic lens born through the demoralized counterculture.
Paul’s choice of soundtrack was questionable. Songs from the likes of Jason Mraz, Slash, The All American Rejects laced the borders of For No Good Reason. A jazz score would have been more appropriate… maybe some Frank Zappa. With a counterculture figurehead as the subject, it seemed strange to have such poppy songs booming through the theatre’s system. Other than the choice of music, For No Good Reason is recommended for those interested in Ralph Steadman’s art, Hunter S. Thompson, Gonzo, the 70s, cartoons or stories of drugs and debauchery. A visual feast and a delight, this film will appeal to anyone who appreciates the finer things in life.
For No Good Reason opens Friday, May 16 at Cineplex International Village.