We head to bat country this week for Charlie Paul’s new documentary For No Good Reason (2012), detailing the life and work of Ralph Steadman – the illustrator and cartoonist best known for his work with Hunter S. Thompson on the novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Before the Gonzo years, Steadman worked on Private Eye, The Telegraph and Punch. Then, through a twist of fate whilst travelling in America, he encountered the iconic doctor of journalism, Hunter S. Thompson. When the pair joined forces writing for Rolling Stone Magazine in the 1970s, Steadman found the perfect (if antithetical in personality) partner, finally finding an equally riling voice with which to buck against the system.
Through interviews with friend Johnny Depp, Steadman’s career is traced across the years demonstrating how he desperately wanted to “change the world.” Lavishly produced and deeply stylised, For No Good Reason blends in Steadman’s art through a series of quirky and down right insane animations of his beloved pen and ink cartoons. Whilst Steadman has had a prolific career the documentary makes the main focus his friendship with the drug-addled and volatile Thompson. In some respects this over-shadows much of the film occasionally losing sight of the artist work. This being said the documentary does provide plenty of space for Steadman’s other encounters including the equally iconic William S. Burroughs and ex-Python Terry Gilliam, as well as his admirable human rights work.
The most captivating element of For No Good Reason is seeing just how the artist works. Shot for the most part in his ramshackle studio in the Kent countryside, we watch as the now 76-year-old artist splatters ink stains on huge white sheets of paper, which gradually emerge as fascinating and surreal characters. Whilst his work maybe always strange and unworldly Steadman is shown to be that of the gentle Englishman pottering away diligently in his workshop where all the angst and bile he feels towards the world is channelled into his work. At times, there is a sense that Steadman isn’t quite comfortable with the idea of having a film made about him or his work, arguing that this is happening “for no good reason.” And yet, when it comes down to brass tacks (to loosely quote Thompson), the ether may have worn off and the acid long gone, but Steadman’s work is as sharp and witty as ever: a fact which shines throughout this heartfelt doc.
This review was originally published on 12 October 2012 as part of our London Film Festival coverage.