Artist and cartoonist Ralph Steadman is long overdue a cinematic eulogy, but this doc fails to hold the attention.
Everyone – whether they realise it or not – is familiar with the work of artist and cartoonist Ralph Steadman. The crazed, scabrous illustrations he produced to accompany Hunter S Thompson’s whirlwind journalism have left an indelible, ink-spattered smear across modern culture.
But Steadman was more than a mere hired hand. Accompanying the good doctor on many of his greatest incursions, the Welsh dauber was both a constant spur and an occasional sacrifice to the gods of the great gonzo notion.
Charlie Paul’s documentary about Steadman’s life and work sets out to remind us there is more to the man than his collaboration with Thompson. A skilled, accomplished and courageous political cartoonist, Steadman enjoyed a varied and lucrative career both before and after his work on such seminal gonzo artifacts as 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas', all of which is detailed with care and precision.
But a creative life well lived is not in itself a scintillating subject for a documentary and the film could use a little of the noxious energy and controlled mayhem that swirls within Steadman's own splenetic outpourings and also supercharged Alex Gibney's Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson – a documentary with which one cannot fail to compare this.
Johnny Depp – the go-to guy for any worthwhile post-Summer of Love era arts doc and former Thompson cohort-cum-alter ego – conducts proceedings, gently prodding Steadman along over what appears to be a weekend in Uncle Ralph’s country pile. But other than a fascinating section where we witness one of Steadman’s artworks slowly taking shape (not one of his best, he’d surely agree), there’s not enough style or substance here to truly hold the attention.
A mewling yet occasionally deafening – and seemingly arbitrary – soundtrack overflowing with upstart folk-rock nobodies adds little to the experience.