This is a fine documentary fifteen years in the making by Charlie Paul that films Johnny Depp chatting with Ralph Steadman, the acclaimed illustrator who collaborated with his friend Hunter Thompson on a number of works.  Steadman is a Brit who is known for his political and social cartoons and picture books (Alice in Wonderland, I Leonardo, Inspector Mouse, That’s My Dad), for which he has received many awards.  Recently (2011), he began writing for Kotori Magazine.

 Steadman notes how he became acquainted with Thompson in the 1970s during his first trip to America.  Not long after, they made a trip to the Kentucky Derby to write an article about it for the political muckraking magazine Scanlan’s (“The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved”).  They had a long, turbulent friendship, which Steadman describes in detail.  They had many fights, but always made up and began working together again.  Hunter was much more serious than Ralph, and Ralph frequently poked fun at him, by drawing him, for instance, in bucket hats, with a cigarette holder, or wearing aviator sunglasses.  He was deeply affected by Hunter’s suicide, and still thinks about him and loves him dearly.

 Their audience was a counter-culture disillusioned after the hope for major changes in the sixties.  Steadman was popular both in the US and the UK for the bold political statements he made with his art.  Many of his drawings were featured in Rolling Stone and appeared in a number of Thompson’s works, most notably, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:  A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream.  

 Steadman’s work is his attempt to show the connection between life and art.  He says, “Cartooning mean more to me than just funny pictures.  I needed to apply it as a weapon almost…I thought that if I ever learned to draw properly, I would try to change the world for the better.”  

 Steadman produces some of his artwork during the film, sopping up paint on a brush and tossing it onto the paper, “a flick of the wrist”, he says.  He may later draw in details, or blow more paint onto it.  He describes some of the “tricks” he uses to get the effect he wants.  He does not necessarily know how the painting will turn out:  “If you do surprise yourself, you can have a very good trip.”

 Steadman is an older man now (late 70s), but he doesn’t sound like one.  He is sharp, entertaining, and funny, and he and Johnny Depp play off each other very well.  In addition to Johnny, William S. Burroughs, Terry Gilliam (who made the film Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), and Richard E. Grant talk about their associations with Steadman.

 This very interesting documentary about Steadman also provides a view of his fanciful productions and makes some politically powerful statements.

Grade:  A