For No Good Reason Review

Why do creative people do what they do?

That’ll be For No Good Reason.

Like I imagine so many others, I first came across Ralph Steadman’s work through reading the novels of Hunter S. Thompson.

I didn’t even realise it at the time, but looking back now I realise that, while I was drawn to Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas by what I’d heard of this great american outlaw writer, it was the garish yet incredible illustration on the front cover that made me pick up the book.

And while Hunter’s name gets most of the glory, these two kindred creators work became eternally entwined with each other; for though they used different mediums to communicate, they spoke with the same voice.

And so it proves, as we go back to the beginning of Steadman’s departure from ordinary drawings to the gonzo incarnations he created through his work with the good doctor of journalism.

As you’d imagine, it was the great writer himself who seemed to ignite the flame in Steadman; or at the very least the copious amount of alcohol he forced the English illustrator to drink on their first assignment together.

Emboldened by whatever shots they’d been knocking back, Steadman created some of those idiosyncratic and uninhibited illustrations to go with Hunter’s atavistic account of the 1970 Kentucky derby.

The two men would continue to collaborate on whatever assignments Hunter managed to talk his way into, like when they went to Zaire to cover Muhammad Ali’s famous rumble in the jungle with George Foreman.

Only for the good doctor to sell their tickets for grass.

Or the Honolulu marathon, where Hunter and Steadman would congregate at the finish line to yell insults at the exhausted competitors.

When they weren’t spray painting “fuck the pope” upon expensive yachts in Honolulu harbour, before firing flares into the night sky when caught with inevitably incendiary consequences for the lacquered boats beneath.

But, of course, Steadman was much more than just his work with the Hun.

From writing a book about Leonardo da Vinci in the first person, creating mind twisting photography from his own febrile creativity to his illustrations that he hoped would change the world; Steadman left no creative stone unturned in his work.

Fifteen years in the making, For No Good Reason is a labour of love from director Charlie Paul and his producer wife Lucy.

By his own admission, Steadman was something of a hero for Charlie and this understanding of his subject, coupled with the unprecedented access he was granted to the great illustrator’s life, conveys a warm sense of intimacy throughout Paul’s documentary.

Narrated by Hunter S. Thompson’s most famous and ardent admirer, Johnny Depp adds a splash of hollywood pizzazz to the film; and it’s fascinating to see him similarly in thrall to Steadman’s creative talents as he was to the godfather of gonzo journalism.

This is perfectly distilled in one, drawn out scene where we get to observe Steadman create one of his idiosyncratic images from beginning to end.

Adding layers and layers of different paints and material to his cartridge paper canvas through a variety of different methods, the doctor of gonzo illustrations begins to scrape and gouge away at what he’s created.

Before long, you can see some signature features of Steadman’s visual voice peering out at you from the half-finished portrait, which ends up looking like something from Thompson’s The Curse of Lono.

For no good reason, I was fortunate enough to pick up a ticket to the premiere of this documentary at the London Film Festival and got to see the great artist up close and personal at the bar.

When asked why he’s done things the way he has in the after film q & a session, Steadman borrowed the title of his film that turns out was a favourite saying of Hunter’s.

While I understand the flippant nature of this phrase, there’s plenty of good reasons to watch this study of a great artist.

Jonathan Campbell

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October 2012
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