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Originally published Thursday, June 5, 2014 at 3:08 PM

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‘For No Good Reason’: indelible marks of an artist, friendship

A four-star review of “For No Good Reason,” a documentary about artist Ralph Steadman, his unnerving artistic vision and his friendship with “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” author Hunter S. Thompson.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie Review ★★★★  

‘For No Good Reason,’ a documentary directed by Charlie Paul. 89 minutes.

Rated R for language, some drug content and brief sexual images. Sundance Cinemas.



It begins.

Ralph Steadman hurls a glob of ink onto a sheet of paper in “For No Good Reason,” regards the splotch for a moment and says, “Are you ready for this?”

As his idol Picasso gazes down from a photo over the drawing board, Steadman digs in — literally. He scratches down through layers of ink with artist tools and uses brushes to boldly expand on his splatters, dragging from his teeming brain an image of a man with terrifying teeth and demented eyes.

Over decades Steadman has brought forth hundreds of such disturbing images — of savage beasts, of political figures portrayed as savage beasts (Richard Nixon merited a particularly scalding caricature), of the famous and not-so-famous, all in agony.

Meet Ralph Steadman and his nightmare visions of a world in pain, revealed in a mesmerizing documentary.

Steadman came to America from his native England in the early ’70s, intrigued by the social and artistic ferment of the ’60s, looking for something. Or someone.

He found him.

“I met the one man I needed to meet in America.”

Hunter S. Thompson.

They were different in personality — “we were like chalk and cheese,” he tells director Charlie Paul — but wholly in sync in terms of sensibility, especially in their shared detestation of authority (and their affinity for strong drink and wild behavior).

Their collaborative efforts came to full flower with 1972’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” Thompson’s novel about a journalist, his alter ego, on a drug-drenched trip. Steadman’s iconic cover drawing — of the moment “somewhere around Barstow ... when the drugs began to take hold” and hallucinogenic bats began divebombing Thompson’s fire-apple-red convertible — helped put the book, and its perpetrators, on the map.

Cazart! Gonzo journalism was born — journalism that is highly personal and wildly idiosyncratic (especially in Thompson’s case).

“For No Good Reason,” like “Fear and Loathing,” is an unforgettable trip — stitched together by Paul from clips of the two men, as well as professional colleagues and admirers, and interspersed with revealing interview segments shot in Steadman’s studio and presided over by Johnny Depp (who portrayed his friend Thompson in the 1998 movie adaptation of “Fear and Loathing”). It’s a tale of an artist in the thrall of his unnerving artistic vision and of a conflicted friendship that ended when Thompson killed himself in 2005 at age 67.

“I did love Hunter, and I miss him,” Steadman says.


Soren Andersen:

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