Johnny Depp Featured in Charlie
"For No Good Reason"
A Documentary on British Cartoonist Ralph Steadman
By Beverly Cohn
British cartoonist Ralph
Steadman is the subject of
Charlie Paul's documentary "For No Good Reason."
hroughout the centuries, certainly beginning with Greek playwright
Aristophanes' "Lysistrata," the 411 BC comedy about
a woman's mission to end the Peloponnesian War by withholding
sexual favors from her husband until he stopped going to war
artists, poets, political cartoonists, and writers such as Chekov,
Ibsen, John Steinbeck, or Arthur Miller, have used their
art form to shine a light on the inequities, hypocrisies, and family
struggles inherent in the socio/economic/political structures present
at any given period of time in history.
Famed British cartoonist Ralph Steadman
is indeed one of those voices and in his 40-year career, he has
created thousands of political and social caricatures illuminating injustices
inherent in all facets of life, whether overt or covert. Through his
staggering amount of illustrations, he hoped to somehow make the world
a better place. A good portion of Steadman's work chronicled
the consequences of the demise of the 1960s counterculture revolution,
which was reflected in music, literature, art, and philosophy.
Left: Ralph Steadman became life-long friends with
famed author Hunter S. Thompson. Right: One of the many books illustrated
by Ralph Steadman.
Steadman first became quite visible as a result
of his work and friendship with Hunter S. Thompson who wrote
"Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" for which Steadman
did the illustrations. Their 40-year friendship included collaboration
on "The Curse of Lono," coverage of the Watergate
scandal, and numerous articles for Rolling Stone magazine. In
addition to writing his own books, Steadman worked with other writers
and illustrated editions of "Alice in Wonderland,"
"Treasure Island," "Animal Farm,"
and the Ray Bradbury's seminal "Fahrenheit 451."
Just about everyone has a hero and Charlie Paul's
hero is Ralph Steadman and because of that, he decided to document
this amazing artist's life and times through his film, which took fifteen
years from start to completion. Paul's career includes directing
commercials and music videos, receiving over thirty advertising awards.
He gained experience in motion control, using this film technique in
working with many artists. Filming their art from inception to its final
creation, some of that footage appeared in a BAFTA-nominated
series called, "Inside Art."
Paul recently sat down with your reporter for an
exclusive interview on his 15-year odyssey in creating "For
No Good Reason," and the following has been edited for content
A satirical approach to an old classic. Courtesy
What initially attracted you to Steadman's work?
Paul: I was at college studying fine art. Ralph
was kind of known sporadically in the UK because of his book "Alice
in Wonderland" and a few other publications and disappeared
for a year while working on another book. He's a private man so there
was very little known about him but I was fascinated with his work.
Then I read "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and that
made me think, wow, this is crazy - seeing art and literature get so
entwined with each other. I thought I have meet this guy.
How did you approach him about making a documentary
on his life and work?
Paul: The process of filming art, brush stroke by brush
stroke fascinated me. With the artists' palette set off camera, I would
take a picture when they recharged their brush. I would do this over
and over again and would end up with a short animation of the painting
building up. I had heard that Ralph also filmed his work so I
gathered my film together of artists I had shot and sent it to Ralph
with a letter asking if I could come down and talk to him about filming
his work. Ralph wrote me a letter back saying: "Dear Boy,
What you do is nothing like what I do; it's much more polished, but
please come down and say hello anyway." So, I went down to his
home in Old Loose Court in Kent and spent the day with
him. We bonded very well and as I left, Ralph handed me books
filled with hundreds of videocassettes and said, "Take a look."
What was on those videocassettes?
Paul: I took them back to my studio and started looking
through them and began uncovering this amazing world that Ralph
had filmed of his life. There were conversations with Hunter,
journeys to different countries, visits to wine places, and drawings
for other people. I instantly knew that I had the beginnings of a fascinating
story that had been documented already over the last few years.
Ralph Steadman at work in his studio. Courtesy
What happened after that?
Paul: I went back to Ralph and started asking
questions about the films and at the same time, I set up a camera above
his drawing desk with a button so whenever he walked into the studio,
he would press the button and the camera would record his brush strokes
frame by frame, which gave me real insight into what Ralph was doing
in my absence. I would go back and forth each week and pick up the chip
and that was the beginning of an on-going relationship. It was a marvelous
thing to be able to document the time I was spending with the great
man my artistic hero.
How did the documentary begin to take shape?
Paul: My wife, Lucy Paul, who is the producer,
brought in an editor, Joby Gee who worked on the editing for
Ralph Steadman's work reflects the life and times
around him. Courtesy photo.
Steadman was particularly fascinated with the rise
and fall of the
counterculture of the 60s. Courtesy photo.
Why was Steadman fascinated with the collapse
of the counterculture of the 1960s?
Paul: Ralph is an incredibly engaged artist.
He is fully aware of his place in the world and what is going on around
him. His interest in the shifting tides of our culture has always been
a preoccupation and his take on politics has always been from the underdog's
viewpoint. His idea of a counter-culture has been that there is always
another way. Ralph is a fantastically informed artist who is
constantly questioning why things are the way they are.
Famed novelist Hunter S. Thompson and cartoonist
Ralph Steadman were collaborators and had a life-long friendship. Courtesy
Did you shoot the footage between Ralph and Hunter
who both like to drink, perhaps to excess?
Paul: To be perfectly honest, Ralph provided
some of the best footage in the film, including he and Hunter
in a room drinking into the night and just talking. These tapes were
the most incredibly intimate conversations, which at one point has them
accusing each other of stealing each other's fame. I was fortunate enough
to have access to a really personal archive of Ralph and Hunter's
relationship. No one has ever seen this footage before and no one will
ever see it again because all the tapes have been returned.
L-R: Ralph Steadman and Johnny Depp shared a mutual
closeness with Hunter S. Thompson. Courtesy photo.
What do you think Johnny Depp added to the film
besides "star power"?
Paul: Well, the star power is enormous. (Laughs)
Johnny and Ralph's relationship goes back way. Johnny's
love of Hunter and Ralph's love of Hunter made
them come together on various occasions. I had found photographs of
Johnny in Ralph's studio so I knew there was something
going on between the two. I needed someone to be a visitor to
be the person that the audience sees - so it was a natural choice to
involve Johnny. They already had a relationship and Johnny
agreed that he wanted to work on the film, so it was a matter of finding
time in his incredibly busy schedule.
With Johnny in Los Angeles, how did you keep him
in the loop?
Paul: As the film went on, I would make these lumps
of the film that would surround certain chapters of certain books and
we'd send them back to L.A. for Johnny to see so he could
watch the film in progress over many years. Eventually, the word came
that Johnny was ready to get involved and it was like two old
friends getting together. I put the two of them in the studio and prompted
Johnny and Ralph by giving them books I wanted to be in
the film and from then on, they really ran their own show.
How did you set up the scenes where you wanted
something specific to happen?
L-R: Hunter S. Thompson with his good friend
Johnny Depp. Courtesy photo.
Paul: I set them up very delicately. I wouldn't say
what I wanted to have happen in a scene, but I would give Johnny a book
and say "Johnny, talk about this." Johnny would say,
"Hey Ralph, what's this?" Ralph would go off
on something else and Johnny would say, "Hey Ralph,
really, what's this about?" I prompted it, but to be perfectly
honest, Ralph's trust of Johnny allowed him, for the first
time, to take direction. This gave me the opportunity to use Johnny
as a frame for the art. Like any frame, it's not there to change the
picture and it's not there to be the same as the picture; it's something
that's quite different and inert. So, Johnny was the perfect
character to bring into this crazy, very messy outlook of Ralph's.
Was there one scene that was particularly
difficult to shoot?
Paul: I would say most of those scenes
were always on the edge of going somewhere else. I think the scene where
I had to really disappear into the background was when Ralph
and Johnny talked about Hunter because they both shared a very
deep loss and you could see between the two of them, that they really
understood each other's loss. At that point, I knew I was not part of
that story. I would say at that time I knew the film was running itself,
but I also knew it was a very delicate and dangerous place to be as
far as both of those characters feeling that I was intruding on their
personal life. There was definitely a lump in my throat when Johnny
was talking about his loss and again, Ralph understood that loss
Did Ralph have any problems with
the first cut and did he want you to change anything?
Paul: I finally sat down with Ralph
and watched the whole movie. He saw bits and pieces along the way, but
he never saw it as an eclectic piece of work. He really enjoyed the
film and decided that there was nothing that was inappropriate. If I
was going to make a film about a man's life, I wanted that man to fully
embrace it and be happy and I wanted Ralph to be solid and happy with
L-R: Ralph Steadman, filmmaker Charlie Paul, and
Johnny Depp. Courtesy photo.
What is your greatest joy about the completion
of this project?
For me, my joy as a director is the fact that Ralph
didn't change anything and was happy with the outcome, which meant he
would live with this film for the rest of his life. Ralph is
the real man you see in the film. There's no hidden agenda. There's
no crazy, angry man that I had to cut out of the film. He is recognizable
throughout the documentary and that's the truth. I'm very proud to have
made a film that didn't have to escape that truth.
Through his staggering amount of illustrations,
Ralph Steadman hoped to shine a light on man's inhumanity to man and
to somehow make the world a better place. Courtesy photo.