'For No Good Reason': The illustrating man

Johnny Depp (left) and Ralph Steadman in "For No Good Reason."
Johnny Depp (left) and Ralph Steadman in "For No Good Reason."
Posted: May 16, 2014

I SAW THE new Ralph Steadman documentary with a Pulitzer-winning cartoonist in tow, the better to understand this look at the famous illustrator.

She described the movie, "For No Good Reason," as a fascinating master class in methods and techniques of Steadman, known for his Rolling Stone art and his famous collaborations with Hunter S. Thompson.

But she had a question: Who is that ragged numbskull who's always standing next to Steadman?

Why, it's Johnny Depp, who in point of fact does not add much to the documentary. He stands around mumbling in that continental stoner accent of his, more or less assuming we know that he, too, was a friend of Thompson's, and played him in a couple of movies.

But Depp is also the film's patron, without whom the movie wouldn't have been financed, shot and distributed, so we put up with him. Like we did with Brad Pitt in "12 Years a Slave."

And it's an acceptably small price to pay for an interesting look at the work of Steadman, whose grotesque, ink-splattered art provided the ideal complement to Thompson's gonzo writing.

Steadman says the aggression that people feel in his work is there by design. He felt the angry activism in his art (at odds with his genteel English gardener persona) was entirely justified by the mission at hand - ending the Vietnam War, the Nixon administration.

His technique seems to grow out of those angry impulses - he flings ink/paint at the canvas, allows a shape to suggest itself, and embellishes that shape until we see it, too.

Less interesting is the gossip - information about Steadman's personal relationship (the only personal data in the movie) with the volatile Thompson, who one-sidedly ended their friendship toward the end of his life.

The break seems to arise from Thompson's pettiness and envy, or perhaps his decreasing grasp on reality. Footage of Thompson shown here makes him looks old, sad, delusional. In the end, the famous fear and loathing turned inward, although Steadman is too polite to say so.


Blog: philly.com/KeepItReel

Online: ph.ly/Movies

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