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Monday, June 2, 2014

For No Good Reason

Fear and Loathing with Hunter S. Thompson

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Ralph Steadman and Hunter S. Thompson went on the road together in the 1970s as a real-life odd couple, the fastidious British pen and ink artist as sidekick to the berserker Yank behind Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. In a revealing moment from For No Good Reason, Steadman says he was usually stone cold sober as his partner gulped entire lakes of booze and gobbled down drugs by the sack. The two were, in Steadman’s words, “like chalk and cheese,” each thinking the other weird while becoming like brothers.

Steadman is the star of the documentary by first-time director Charlie Paul, but has a co-star, a supporting actor, in the form of Johnny Depp, whose questions move the chronicle forward and whose screen presence is helpful only so far as his involvement made possible the film’s widespread distribution. Of course, Depp, who starred in Terry Gilliam’s film adaptation of Fear and Loathing, is a fan; he seems to make himself part of Steadman’s family for the duration of the shoot. He wants to know what it was like, running with Thompson and hanging with William S. Burroughs.

Erudite and slightly self-effacing, Steadman wields India ink the way Jackson Pollock flung paint. But despite the characteristic splatter and smudges, faces emerge from Steadman’s canvases that recall the bitter satire of George Grosz, the Weimar-era German caricaturist who savaged the greed, decadence and hypocritical self-righteousness of his postwar homeland. Several times in the documentary, Steadman states that he began drawing because he wanted to change the world. The victim of peer bullying and a headmaster fond of applying the cane, Steadman has always lashed out at bullies, especially those in high places. The phrase “for no good reason” was Thompson’s shrug-off explanation for his forays into the wild side. Steadman usually had good reasons for the pictures he drew.

For No Good Reason opens Friday, June 6, at the Downer Theatre, 2589 N. Downer Ave.