On Movies: Quite the trip, getting this flick made

English artist Ralph Steadman (left), subject of the documentary "For No Good Reason," with director Charlie Paul and actor Johnny Depp.
English artist Ralph Steadman (left), subject of the documentary "For No Good Reason," with director Charlie Paul and actor Johnny Depp. (LUCY PAUL)
Posted: May 19, 2014

Ambassador Depp?

In For No Good Reason, a kaleidoscopic doc about English artist Ralph Steadman - he of the hallucinogenic splatters that accompany many of Hunter S. Thompson's writings - movie star Johnny Depp shows up at Steadman's front door, at a big old house in the Kentish countryside. He watches as Steadman works, wonders, and reflects.

Tattooed, in tattered hat and jeans and fancy eyeglasses, and running his fingers across a five o'clock shadow of a mustache, Depp is no gratuitous celeb thrown into the mix to attract attention.

Well, he is a bit of that, perhaps, but he's legitimately a friend of Steadman, the 78-year-old inkmeister. And Charlie Paul, the English video and commercial director who labored long and hard over his portrait of Steadman, was happy to have Depp involved.

"I'd been at Ralph's and there would be evidence of Johnny around, as far as photographs of the two of them, or a guitar, or whatever," Paul explains by phone, on a roof garden, enjoying rare London sun the other day. "I knew the connection, and we were always looking for someone to be the frame for the film, you know, to be the visitor, the guide. . . .

"So we just kept him on the radar. . . . We never thought it would happen, but we would send bits of footage, modular bits, off to Johnny. And my wife" - producer Lucy Paul - "always had Johnny set in her mind as being the ideal ambassador for Ralph's work, as far as getting it out there into the world.

"And then Johnny's interest heightened, really, at some point, and we got Johnny and Ralph together back in Ralph's studio."

The rest is, well, not exactly history, but it's nice to see Depp in candid and inquisitive mode. When he and Steadman reflect on gonzo journalist Thompson's 2005 suicide - Depp paid for the writer's memorial service - both turn quietly emotional.

For No Good Reason, which takes its title from a Thompson catchphrase, opened Friday at the Ritz Bourse following a fruitful film festival run. For Paul, it's the culmination of 15 years of work. Back at the end of the last century, he had written Steadman a letter asking if he might film the artist in his studio, as he huddles over the madcap cartoons, crazy-eyed portraits, and teeming tableaus that had made him famous.

Lo and behold, Steadman invited him to visit.

"I was full of trepidation," Paul recalls. "Ralph felt like a very unapproachable kind of character to me. . . . He came out for signings, but between books, he disappeared. And I had worked with artists before . . . and you never know how it's going to pan out."

But Paul walked into Steadman's "Aladdin's cave" of a studio, with its "drawers and drawers of mesmerizing stuff - the art that I'd been interested in all these years." The two men hit it off.

"We spent a few hours talking, mostly about the idea of filming one's own work. It was a lovely summer day, if I remember. It was full of agreement, of things to look forward to."

And Paul's work began.

"I hadn't imagined that it was going to take so long," he says of the project, of the process. For No Good Reason mixes interviews with Steadman, with Terry Gilliam, with actor Richard Grant (Steadman did the poster for Grant's cult hit Withnail and I), with music producer Hal Willner ("He is not his paintings," Willner says, meaning that Steadman is as calm and collected as his artwork is rabid and bizarre). Some of Steadman's signature illustrations have been animated. Beat icon William S. Burroughs appears for a fun afternoon of target practice - shooting at a portrait of Shakespeare that Steadman has happily supplied. The ideas, the images, kept coming.

"I have a very successful commercial career," Paul says, "and I get my kicks from filmmaking, so this project was something that was done for the love of it. And as it grew, I just loved it more, in a funny kind of way. And if I didn't love it, I would repair it."

Near the end of For No Good Reason, Paul pulls out one of the documentary's true treasures: a video of Steadman and Thompson talking.

"It's just Ralph filming Hunter," he says. "Ralph had a fascination with cameras at that time. He set the camera on a table and put a microphone out. And they would drink and talk and smoke, and it was from those sessions that you get this incidental capturing of the two of them, honest, brotherly, but exasperated with each other. . . . .

"They were like family. It was a beautiful thing to see, and then to watch them fall out."

Godzilla Maximus? The rumblings began weeks ago, from Japan, where the creature was born in the 1950s. This new Godzilla, the title star of the reported $160 million monster movie reboot, was, um, kind of chubby, cherubic, corpulent.

He was, the Japanese fans complained, fat.

Not so, says Thomas Tull, chairman and chief executive officer of Legendary Pictures, the producing entity behind the new Godzilla, which opened everywhere Friday.

"The interesting thing in this day and age of social media is literally three people put it on Twitter, and now I have somebody from Philadelphia asking about it," says Tull, also one of the owners of the Pittsburgh Steelers. "I think it's an exciting time to be alive."

But Tull isn't done:

"Look, we love our Godzilla design, and if you take a look through time and history, he's had all kinds of different looks. But we like him, and we don't want to make him feel bad, so we're not going to ask him to go on a diet."


srea@phillynews.com

215-854-5629

@Steven_Rea

www.inquirer.com/onmovies

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|