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  • Baltimore City Paper

The Art of Commerce

For No Good Reason

Directed by Charlie Paul

Opens May 16 at the Charles Theatre

Yeah, illustrator Ralph Steadman

does all the labels for Flying Dog beer, and that's great, but he also was responsible (according to his own theory) for the success of Hunter S. Thompson, not kidding, it's all captured in

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For No Good Reason

(the title is a cryptic spoiler alert), a documentary that is sort of hosted by Johnny Depp, which presents the career of Mr. Steadman and shows us shows a colossal pile of art pulled from a mountain of brutal, caustic, violent, and critical artwork. Mr. Steadman states, in all seriousness, he thought he would change the world, and this film provides an opportunity to prove or disprove that statement. As you are reading the A's in this Q&A, make sure they are in the English accents of Charlie and Lucy Paul, respectively director and producer of

For No Good Reason

. We join their voices emanating over a horrible speakerphone connection from a room with terrible acoustics and a three-second delay.

Charlie Paul: Hey there, Charlie here.

Lucy Paul: Hi Joe, Lucy here.

City Paper

: Lucy and Charlie. Paul.

C: OK, brilliant, are you in Baltimore, I hear?

CP

: I am in Baltimore. And I hope you can hear me because I got my phone on the speaker.

L: We're good, we can hear you Joe, can you hear us?

CP

: Very good.

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C: There's a little bit of delay, so we'll leave a gap each time and start after we know there's a good opening.

CP

: OK, yeah, either that or we gotta go like, "Over!"

C and L: [laughing]

C: No, let's just go with the gap.

CP

: Let's go for the gap, very good. So, um, are, are you guys brother and sister, or are you married?

C: Yeah, good question, we're married. Married about 25 years, and still married after 15 years of making

For No Good Reason

[laughs].

L: And making three kids during the making of it.

CP

: Yeah, I can't actually, I mean, I can imagine, it's gotta be a little bit stressful, but it's also gotta be pretty awesome to be able to work with each other.

C: It is. I was just talking to Lucy about that. Doing all this traveling with the business, with festivals and so on, it's a lonely business on the road, but the fact you can take your producer wife with you and enjoy your domestic life as well as your work life throughout has been the most marvelous thing. It's how I managed to make the film after so long without giving up.

CP

: Yeah, there's gotta be a lotta benefits [creepy laugh, followed by

CP

's sudden inner embarrassment at both statement and creepy laugh].

C: Absolutely.

L: It's challenging at times, as well, Joe.

CP

: OK, so, what was funny was the PR people put this to me with the "local relatable" that Ralph does the labels for Flying Dog beer.

C: [Laughs]

CP

: And I thought that was funny, because, I mean, I just saw "Ralph Steadman" in the email and I almost lost my mind.

C: I don't recommend you look at his art and drink the beer at the same time. Ralph has a great relationship with Flying Dog, he's been doing their labels for quite a long time actually, he comprehensively does all their labeling and stuff, and the most amazing thing is that Flying Dog are putting on an art exhibition of Ralph's in New York, as a pop-up gallery in the Red Bull . . . [two minutes on the art, and Flying Dog, and Red Bull, and

CP

realizes Charlie and Lucy will hold forth on any subject put before them, at length. They have been making a movie for 15 years. They are prosecuting the Publicity for this film. They are Interview Pros.]

CP

: OK, I just got finished watching the film. My first reaction was,

I need to start speculating on some Ralph Steadman original art, I need to start buying it and hoarding it.

C: Well, bad news for you Joe, I'm afraid to say. Ralph doesn't part with any of his art. He has a studio where all his art is still sitting in drawers. Which makes the filmmaking process fantastic. We could open a drawer, and I'd say, "Hey Ralph, what's this?" and it opens up a whole lot of memories for Ralph, as a tool for Ralph to track his history and to remember things. For me, it was vital to make the film a firsthand experience with the artist. Being able to see the marks on the paper, to feel the texture, to smell the process of making art. I was very interested on how the light falls on it, the actual relief of Ralph's pen, on the paper, was all part of this idea of immersing my audience in a truly artistic and intimate experience.

CP

: And you absolutely did it. Watching him put the quill down, the sequence where he's there with Johnny Depp and he's just making a piece and he's talking about it while he's doing it.

C: Johnny and Ralph go back many years through their relationship with Hunter [S. Thompson]. Long before the filmmaking process started, so being around Ralph's studio, I came across photographs of Ralph and Johnny, out at a bar or at parties in New York, and I knew those two had a relationship, that they would trust each other within. Johnny obviously couldn't have been there for the full 15 years of the filmmaking, so there was a process of-I would be making a segment of the film, as we went along-once I was happy with the cut of the subject and that particular area of the film, my brilliant producer-wife here, Lucy-who had already started to try to make the connection-would be sending off a segment of the film back to Johnny's cats. I always felt, that Johnny would be the frame to the art. The job of any good frame for a piece of art, it has its own structure, but it doesn't affect the art in any way, it gives it a border. And Ralph, being a crazy, directional person, you point Ralph south, he'll go north. I needed someone to put the edges on, the parameters, the borders to the story. Eventually Johnny's cats got back to Lucy, my wife, they said, "OK, we're ready to go," and it really was a matter of production, finding a way of getting the two together in the same space. I'll let Lucy carry on that story. [to Lucy] Do you wanna add to that?

L: No.

C: [Laughs] That's enough of that. That's how it works! Johnny joined us.

L: We had to define a structure of which stories were important, and then it was a case of just trying to work Johnny's schedule. And he needed to be in Ralph's studio, in Ralph's space, and look at particular bodies of work that by which point existed in the film already, and Johnny was great to work with because he could come and look at a particular area, "Still Life with Raspberries," one of Ralph's early publications, and guaranteed Ralph would talk about some other area of his work, and Johnny had this lovely, gentle way of navigating the conversation back to what it was he knew we needed to cover.

CP

: It worked really well. If you got a little bit of knowledge, you know Johnny Depp has been in movies and stuff and he's a big fan of Hunter Thompson, and it's this natural connection, and it was a seamless way to have Ralph talking to somebody.

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L: We always knew it was too lonely an existence, to just have Ralph in his studio, and also, you'd come out of the film feeling a bit sick, it was really important that somebody framed the art as it were, framed the film, and Johnny was just the natural person to do that. In some ways the difficult thing was Johnny's presence. We're all familiar with his lovely face, and . . . he was really conscious it's a film about Ralph, so his time on screen was to be limited.

CP

: The thing that struck me the most listening to Ralph talk is how honest he is and that he prized that honesty in William Burroughs and in Hunter Thompson, and when he starts to talk about "what does it all mean," and stuff like that. It was really incredible.

C: For me, to be in the presence of someone who I fully trusted, as far as his moral compass was concerned, was a great guide to my film. Showing how you can live your life, you can make your work and your outlook something that is compatible with the ongoing scenarios on the planet. Ralph is fully on the side of everything he works for or does. At the same time he is the reason we all believe that somehow humanity will pull through, we all believe that deep down we're all good people. Ralph actually is deep down, a really good man. That was the message I tried to get across in my film.

CP

: I think you succeeded. This is gonna be a teaching aid. He even talks about his materials and his tools, which is just-kids are gonna eat that up.

C: That is why I made the film: to introduce Ralph and what he does to a new generation. A lot of us my age, we've all grown up with Ralph and Hunter's writing and that kind of stuff. I wanted to make a film that inspires the next generation-that's Ralph's strength, his moral compass, the idea I could make a film that sent kids thinking they could also make a difference, make a mark, whatever it may be, and see him as an example of successfully doing so.

CP

: You skewered him a little bit when he was signing all the prints and you were hitting the cash-register sound. What was his reaction to that?

C: Good question. Ralph's son, actually, that was his favorite part of the film. I made that part of the film-somebody sees a film about an artist and you wonder,

How the hell do they actually survive, how do they make that work?

It's a double-edged sword, there's the idea of working and selling your work, and the idea of producing work irrespective of the markets around. I wanted to lighten up the whole thing and also to say, "Hey, it's OK to sell your work, it's OK to do the commercial side of it." So it's a bit of a slap in the face for the puritans in the art world.

L: It's the reality of being an artist.

C: As Ralph explains, pointedly, he destroys his soul every time he signs something. It distracts him from actually making a new piece of art, but you know, these are the realities of the world.

CP

: Ralph reacted appropriately to the humor of that cash-register sound?

L: [laughs] "Did he?" did you say?

C: That's a good question. I haven't actually watched his face with the film running, but he certainly recognizes the reality of it. He has no objections to the film at the moment, but he changes his mind every day.

CP

: At the moment.

C: At the moment he's very happy with all that, there isn't a single thing in the film that Ralph actually feels we should not have included.

CP

: Congratulations on this film. I wish you the best of luck with it and I wish you the best of luck with whatever exercise in commerce you have to do up in New York, good luck with that.

C: It's gonna be as complicated next week with Ralph, as it has been for the last 15 years.

CP

: Well, you made it look easy, just like he made his art look easy.

C: Thanks, Joe, that's brilliant.

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