The art documentary For No Good Reason focuses on the work of well renowned artist Ralph Steadman and the influential author Hunter S. Thompson. Steadman is a legendary illustrator / artist / cartoonist who has created familiar and recognizable works. His career and the influence of is the centerpiece of the insightful and amusing art doc playing in limited release. I had a chance to sit down with the director Charlie Paul to discuss his motivation to make the documentary, Johnny Depp’s role in the film, and what he wants audiences to take away from it.
Synopsis: Experience 15 years in the life of acclaimed illustrator Ralph Steadman, whose surreal, often confrontational artwork is frequently associated with Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson thanks to such books as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and The Curse of Lono. A look back at Steadman’s remarkable career offers a glimpse into his vivid imagination as interviews with Johnny Depp, Terry Gilliam, Richard E. Grant, Tim Robbins and others offer insight into the man behind the legend. Meanwhile, Steadman watches as his drawings are brought to life through the magic of animation for the very first time.
Charlie Paul was eager to make For No Good Reason mostly for the inspiration he found in Ralph Steadman as an artist. He had been following the career of Steadman for a long time and had admired his work for over a decade.
“I started life as an artist. And being an artist Ralph’s influence was enormous,” Charlie Paul said. “I was fortunate enough to find a way into Ralph’s life about 15 years ago and we’ve been friends ever since. It has been like a childhood dream having access to an artist that’s your influence. The thing about Ralph’s art is that it seems to be on the move.”
An A-list actor like Johnny Depp would feel out of place in a small documentary about art, but the famous actor has long established relationship with the artist Ralph Steadman. Johnny Depp has been a fan for even longer than Charlie Paul so it was appropriate to have him on screen interacting with Steadman. The synergy captured on screen between Depp and Steadman is infectious.
“When those two were together it was like best buddies,” he said. “So for me to have that relationship in Ralph’s studio was fantastic and it was very natural. Those two keep in touch all the time. Johnny and Ralph talk on a regular basis. And Johnny like that. Once he gets a friend going he is very loyal and supportive.”
The coolest technical aspect featured in For No Good Reason was bringing Steadman’s iconic art to life on screen with animation. It is worth seeing the movie alone based on what was achieved. Charlie Paul went on to describe the issues with making this. The filmmakers animated Ralph’s drawings and watching them build up frame by frame “like watching a painting develop.” Paul went on to admit that, “out of the 300 paintings he looked at, only a few made it into the movie.”
Paul continues and was passionate in describing the process, “There were various complex issue involved with taking the drawing and making them animated. It was quite a breakthrough. They took the last frame of the animated sequence is his actual work,” he said.
Charlie Paul was insistent on not having talking heads describe Steadman’s art and Hunter S. Thompson’s cultural significance. He wanted open minded viewers to make a nonjudgmental approach to their work. If viewers of For No Good Reason take one thing away from watching the fascinating art doc, it is for them to draw their own conclusions.
“The ultimate goal of the film was to immerse the audience at a weekend in Ralph’s and to see Ralph be natural in what he does on a daily basis,” he said. “I wanted the audience to be taken to his study and to make judgments on what they are seeing. It is a very open film. It is like you had gone to a gallery with headphones and you interrupted what you are seeing yourself. Art is full of critics saying what you should think about a painting but as far as I’m concerned a painting is a painting. You can walk up to it and take your own interpretation of it and that’s what I hope the film does,” he said.
For No Good Reason opens at the Landmark Chez Artiste in Denver and I had the pleasure to interview Charlie Paul at the SXSW Film Festival.