Charlie Paul’s documentary, For No Good Reason, takes a look at the life and artwork of Ralph Steadman. Probably best known for the illustrations that brought visual life to many a tale by Hunter S. Thompson, including the masterwork Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Steadman has spent his life trying to make a difference in the world through his art. Often seen as perverse, disturbing and in-your-face, Steadman’s splatter-first endeavors are a stark contrast to the seemingly soft-spoken man who is as quick to smile as he is to soberly muse on his work and life. In this case, Steadman walks through his history with friend Johnny Depp, who serves as interviewer and audience proxy throughout the film, as if we’re joining Depp as a guest to sit in on his visit with Steadman.
Those looking for a Hunter S. Thompson fix will surely get that; you can’t talk about either man without eventually mentioning the other. However, this film is very much focused on Steadman, and while there are more than a few great anecdotes about Thompson and Steadman’s work and friendship, in the end it all comes back to Steadman and his art and philosophies, and it’s nice to see him getting the attention his life and art deserves.
That said, there is a strange calm to the film that is hard to explain. For as bold and energetic as the artwork often is, and the anecdotes equally as full of life, the film still seems to maintain an even keel energy. Maybe it’s the quiet demeanor of Steadman himself, or the equally somber responses by Johnny Depp? Again, it’s hard to explain, but the film felt more subdued than I imagined it would be (which is all the more confounding when you consider how much is done in the edit via animation and other special effects to liven things up).
But ultimately that’s a minor criticism when you’re given an opportunity to watch an artist like Ralph Steadman at work. The film is an incredibly well-crafted experience; the cinematography, animations and other visual tricks to the edit make for an impressive showing. The historical context is great, and the showcasing of the various art even better, but the true gems throughout the film are the moments where Steadman is seen working. Watching the evolution of a complex piece out of that first, violent splatter on the paper is endlessly fascinating to me. I think I could watch his work all day.
In the end, it’s wonderful to see a film dedicated entirely to Ralph Steadman and his artistic contributions over the years. Many have found their way to him via Hunter S. Thompson, but likewise many have found their way to Thompson due to the imagery of Steadman. It’s a working relationship, and tortured friendship, that will keep the two men’s lives intertwined forever, but it’s nice to see a film take the time to tease the two apart. Thompson’s had a number of films made about him, it’s about time we saw a worthy one about Ralph Steadman, and For No Good Reason is more than up to the task.