Film review: FOR NO GOOD REASON, from Built For Speed

For No Good Reason documents the life and work of iconic British artist and cartoonist Ralph Steadman. Even if his name is not familiar, his confronting artwork which is full of wonderfully grotesque, cadaverous, deformed figures and distinctive ink and paint splatters will be.  His art has graced posters for movies such as Withnail and I and for years his sketches visualised the work of Hunter S. Thompson. His vast and astonishing body of work also contains thousands of sketches, cartoons, paintings and collages that vividly and often viciously satirise the brutality, hypocrisy and tragedy of the human race.

Through Steadman’s experiences the film movingly examines the extent to which art can change the world.  This documentary also highlights in Steadman’s quest to forge a satisfying yet sustainable career, the eternal struggle between artistic purity and commerce.  Given how violent and disturbing his images are it’s amusing to find what a modest English gent Steadman is. We’re introduced to him by the film’s narrator and his friend Johnny Depp who visits his home to discuss his work and his remarkable collaborations with Thompson, William S. Burroughs, Terry Gilliam and others.

Having established himself as a cartoonist in England, Steadman made the fateful decision to try his luck in the US. Turning first to photography, his pictures of homeless people on the New York streets gained the attention of Rolling Stone Magazine editor Jann Wenner who thought it would be a good idea to pair him with Hunter S. Thompson. Steadman and Thompson forged a lengthy, successful if volatile partnership as illustrator and writer respectively reporting on the debauchery of the Kentucky derby and the stifling heat and chaos of the rumble in the jungle among many other adventures. Their collaboration forged what became known as gonzo journalism, a crazed, highly immersive and culturally subversive approach to the story subject. Their partnership also saw Steadman introduced to a world of drugs, booze and guns which, as the film amusingly notes, was a major culture shock for the reserved Englishman. Steadman not only became Thomson’s official artist but he even helped fashion Thompson’s distinctive look with the pith helmet and the cigarette holder.

The film showcases a vast and impressive range of Steadman’s confronting works and in some cases animates them into mini-cartoons backed by music from Slash among others.  While the film provides a detailed look at Steadman’s art, disappointingly it provides only a thumbnail sketch of his childhood and life outside his art.  It would have been extremely revealing to see learn more about the forces that shaped his warped visions.  This is a fascinating if limited account of an amazingly influential artist and the tumultuous world he inhabited.

Nick’s rating: ****

Genre: Documentary/ Biopic.

 Classification: M.

Director(s): Charlie Paul.

Release date: 30th Oct 2014

Running time: 90 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. 

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