Oct 10,2012

Johnny Depp stars in wonderful portrait of artist Ralph Steadman

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RALPH Steadman has gone from being the enfant terrible of the British art world to a grand old man of colours.

This documentary, being screened through the weekend as part of the London Film Festival, tracks his story and, as you would expect for someone who has created a signature of a visualisation of the latter half of the 20th century, it’s rather captivating to look at.

Partly presented by Steadman fan Johnny Depp, and using footage of him at work and of his immense archive, we are treated to a film that not only tells us of his development and motivation as an artist, but of the extraordinary relationship he had with his muse, the Gonzo journalist Hunter S Thompson. We get to watch the master at work, and see him create one of his extraordinary pieces. We are also treated to some great footage of him chewing the fat with HST: perhaps the funniest sequence in a film full of joy, mirth, and laughter is the answerphone recordings Thompson made on poor Steadman’s phone.

The film had a long gestation period. Director Charlie Paul, who was behind the award-winning Channel Four art documentaries Inside Art, became friends with Ralph and began slowly shooting footage of him at work, without a concrete idea of a film at the end of it. Ralph had set up a time-lapse camera above his drawing board so he could capture his work as he created it: it meant Charlie immediately had hundreds of hours to use.

He then persuaded Depp to present the film. Depp and Steadman became friends through Hunter, after playing the writer in the film version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

The inclusion of the actor has helped, said Charlie, to broaden the film’s appeal.

“It took 10 years to make the film,” he says.

“At first I was just hanging out with him and taking notes on what he was doing. Working with Ralph can be challenging but it is different every day. You can point him north and walk that way and he’ll just go south.

“He is very spontaneous – but after a decade I thought: let’s make this film.”

And Charlie said while Steadman’s own working environment meant it wasn’t a straight-forward job to capture his work and life, he was fortunate enough to be working with someone who had a ringside seat at some of the major events in recent American history.

“He drew Watergate, he drew the trial of Patty Hearst,” says Charlie.

“With Rolling Stone he covered all the major political events of the time, and was there with Hunter, usually trying their best to cause trouble. They caused mayhem at Watergate – they would show up and be drunk and obstructive, but that was all part of Gonzo journalism.”

All this comes over in this wonderful film, made even more watchable by the superb animated sequences created by Dartmouth Park resident Kevin Richards.

In true Gonzo style, triplers all round in celebration. [Source]

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