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posted: 5/15/2014 5:45 AM

'For No Good Reason' a visual tribute to Ralph Steadman

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Charlie Paul's "For No Good Reason" isn't content to be a mere documentary about British artist Ralph Steadman. It aspires to be a work of art about an artist.

To that end, Paul's visually invigorated movie plies our eyes with split-screens, super close-ups, footage framed by old TV screens, plus animated versions of Steadman's ultra-creepy, highly evocative paintings and sketches.

Even if you don't know the artist's name, you should instantly recognize his nightmarish visions captured in ink lines and paint splatters, illustrations used to condemn the Vietnam War and complement the literary output of legendary gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson.

A pretentiously attired Johnny Depp (who played Thompson in Terry Gilliam's movie "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and Bruce Robinson's "The Rum Diary") becomes an oddly superfluous guide for us as Paul's cameras capture the now-white-haired artist at work in his English studio.

We discover how his younger self boldly proclaimed he had set out to change the world with his brush, but later worries that he's only actually ever been a lowly cartoonist.

"For No Good Reason" is journalistically light, lacking a lot of personal information about the artist. His influences, early life and convictions get moments in the spotlight, but mostly they take a back seat to his "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" relationship with the gonzo journalist, who first worked with him in 1969 for a story on the Kentucky Derby.

Paul loads "For No Good Reason" (from a quote by Thompson to Steadman) with all kinds of interesting eye candy -- period footage, a flood of Steadman-generated images -- perhaps overcompensating for a lifetime of viewing visually banal documentaries.

The movie works best when allowing Steadman to express his rebel soul, not just through his works, but his observations, such as, "Authority is the mask of violence."

That's a good reason to see this documentary.

"For No Good Reason" opens at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago. Rated R for language, drug use, nudity depictions and sexual situations. 89 minutes. ★ ★ ★

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