Directed by Charlie Paul, For No Good Reason <http://www.fornogoodreasonmovie.com/> is a documentary chronicling the life and art of Ralph Steadman. Steadman (http://www.ralphsteadman.com/) is a British artist most famous for his collaborations with Hunter S. Thompson in the 1960s and 70s, which marked the birth of gonzo journalism (http://www.gonzo.org/articles/lit/esstwo.html).
The film draws on current footage, as Steadman is interviewed in his studio by Johnny Depp, as well as historical video recordings it appears that Steadman made with Thompson. The film finds a nice balance, helping the audience to feel in the moment with Steadman as he relives his past, while also providing a window into the present day. The montages ebb and flow, never feeling hurried or cliché. The passage of time is punctuated well by close-ups on a variety of phones ringing in the middle of the night, with Thompson on the other end of the line proffering some new project to Steadman.
One of the highlights of the film for me was the opportunity to see Steadman at work. As he talks, Steadman literally illustrates his artistic process for Depp, creating several new drawings during the course of the film. Steadman says that in his art he wants “to make something as unexpected to me as anyone else,” and he shows how a few blotches and swirls can be turned into something captivating.
Being able to see Steadman at work provides additional depth to his portfolio of drawings, which the audience sees the bulk of during the film. On a purely intellectual level, it’s also interesting to learn about the artistic techniques Steadman uses to create art out of Indian ink and masking fluid, or to see what can be achieved by distorting Polaroid photos while they’re still warm.
Throughout the film, Steadman’s work is animated on the screen, literally re-created for the viewing audience. This process provides both an interesting visual angle and again the sense that the audience is a part of the creative process itself. The energy and productivity of Steadman’s career are visible on the screen as drawing after drawing is assembled before the viewer’s eyes.
In moments, it’s difficult to tell whether the film is meant to be about Steadman or Thompson, as Steadman’s love for his co-collaborator is palpable. Steadman even refers to his own work at one point as a visual chronicle personifying a piece of Thompson’s character. “Our chemistry there made gonzo possible,” Steadman notes, and the audience gets a very real sense of that chemistry, as well as the impact of Thompson’s suicide on Steadman’s life.
The film ends on a bittersweet note. Steadman says that talking with Depp made him realize just how much work he’s done, and that maybe it’s too much. Steadman doesn’t want to become a visual polluter, he says, but there is still more to create. Steadman set out to change the world, but by the end of the film he doesn’t believe he has and isn’t sure why he ever thought he could.
Steadman mentions his influences in Rembrandt, Picasso, and Da Vinci throughout the course of the film, and it makes one think how rare it is that an artist is truly appreciated or understood in his time. Perhaps it is the sad fate of all great artists to think they’ve failed before History can fully comprehend their impact.
While Steadman says he still hasn’t proved he’s an artist, I disagree. The pieces portrayed in the film are at times shocking and thought-provoking, but always cutting directly to the heart of corruption, greed, and hatred in Western culture. That Steadman can portray the worst of human nature in his art yet remain seemingly untouched by it in his character is a true testament to his life’s work.
Those who speak of him in the film say how far he was willing to go in his work – how big of a chance he was willing to take. In the end, that’s the true mark of an artist; being able to take big risks to seek the Truth. While some may not consider his cartoons “art,” it seems impossible to me that anyone could dismiss the powerful body of work portrayed in the film as anything less.
Steadman said he wanted people to “see the work and think about it,” and For No Good Reason certainly accomplishes that. It’s a great film for anyone who’s interested in art, politics, or insight into the creative mind and process. You could also just go see it for no good reason, and I’m sure Steadman would approve of that, too.