Thursday, 18 October 2012

An Interview with Charlie Paul

Developed over fifteen years, For No Good Reason takes us on an insightful journey of discovering as we’re treated to glimpse into the life of British artist Ralph Steadman. Director Charlie Paul sat down with us to discuss his new film.

Image: Fohnjang Ghebdinga/Fohnhouse

How did the idea to do the film come about?

I’ve always been interested in art – I went to an art college and I’m essentially a painter – and I was very interested in recording artists’ work over time. OK, a quick history… I left art college and I got a job animating in paint for a TV programme called Vision On, in those days, so I used to do painted cartoons. I’d walk up to a canvas, paint it, take a frame of that, go back, paint it, take a frame of that, so the process was like a moving painting. I did that in art college, I did that in my first job after art college, then I did a commercial that won lots of awards, in the same process, so I’d established this way of filming art. Then I made a TV series with 5 great artists doing the same thing: I filmed their paintings and interviewed them a lot, and the combination of those two together was quite exciting, so I approached Ralph, because I heard that Ralph had a video camera that he’d film his work on, and showed him my films and he was, typical Ralph, “oh, I don’t have the time to do that.” That was the only time he was ever actually dismissive of me, and that was fifteen years ago. I went down to his place and we talked, and I realised that his studio, his house, was a fantastic canvas to use to describe what he does, so from then on I used to go visit him, and we’d talk about stuff. The reason this film took a long time is that whole first period: it was all about just talking and looking at what he found interesting and then, after about 5 years, we started filming things… and it just grew from there.

Could you talk a bit about the film’s style and your decision to animate Ralph’s work?

The animation was started at the very beginning of the process. The reason for that is I wanted to avoid the classic documentary thing of looking around paintings and then having to fill that gap with describing what you’re seeing, so I was looking for techniques to fill the time, to entertain you while you made your own mind up.

Ralph loved the work. He’d never let anyone animate his work before. He has had so many requests to reanimate Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as you can imagine; they’ve actually wanted him to reanimate the whole film. As he knows, it’s an absolute disaster. There are only 10 drawings in the book and, all of them, their life is within the text.

And the contemporary soundtrack…

The music came much later on in the edit process. A lot people said, ‘Why don’t you use 70s music?’ ‘Why don’t you try and evoke the era?’ But two things happened there. First of all it is for a young audience. I didn’t want to alienate my audience with music that’s not relevant to them. Secondly, there were certain areas that we wanted to have opposites in, so the fact that we’ve got Crystal Castles on the Leonardo [Da Vinci] suite is quite a bizarre idea. It works really well because it energises the actual passage, and, hopefully, it opens it up to a younger audience.

Half our tracks were chosen because we actually wanted to use certain tracks, and they were difficult because we had to pursue those tracks to the artist. But quite often the artists would write tracks for us. The All American Rejects wrote Gonzo, for example, and Jason Mraz recorded I Love, and Slash recorded the guitar on the war segment. We were in the hands of those artists. We gave them the work, we showed them the cut, they produced the music, and, in the same way I wouldn’t have asked Ralph to change his painting in the process, I wouldn’t have asked the artists to change their interpretation of the music. For better or worse, I think it has made this a very unusual documentary because it’s not a slave to describing what was, but it’s more like a reinterpretation in a current way, and I hope it is as timeless as his work is.

How did the actors (Richard E. Grant, Johnny Depp) get involved?

Everyone loves Ralph so it was very easy to ring up Richard E. Grant and say. ‘Hey, Richard, I’m making a film about Ralph, will you give us a day?’ and he’d go, ‘Yeah, of course I can.” Ralph, also, is very generous. It’s described in the film how Ralph helped Richard out by doing pictures, and he was instrumental to Withnail and I, which was Richard’s big break in filmmaking, so everyone’s connected in this way and everyone came on board that way. The same with Johnny.

Johnny is a good example of someone who, in a way, is so connected through his love of Hunter Thompson that he became important to the whole… he became the frame for the process, in a way - whereas everybody else had an episode that was within Ralph’s life, in a way, Johnny spanned Ralph’s life. Ralph would be in America at an opening of some kind and Johnny would be there and there would be pictures of them all hanging out together. Even down to Hunter’s funeral, Johnny arranged the whole funeral, so I kept on coming across work, things that connected them, so in the end we asked if he would be interested in helping us out and that process started there.

Everyone in the film, and many others we interviewed who were very important who didn’t make the film, sadly, were all there because they are unremovable from the fabric of Ralph’s life. The same goes for Hunter Thompson. It’s impossible to make a film about Ralph without Hunter involved. If you avoided these people you almost had to remove a part of Ralph’s life.

What do you want to achieve with the film?

My first intention was to get Ralph out to the world. The film’s job is to spread Ralph’s word, so I made it for a younger audience who didn’t know about him, and I also made it to touch on all these important subjects: human rights, poverty or injustice, but not to preach because you turn the audience off if you start telling people how they should think, so we’ve kept the art very open for people to interpret their own way. I was very interested in giving people tasters of important subjects and hopefully they are influenced and excited to go out and try it themselves – maybe try painting again, maybe try and make a message in painting, or just to follow up on human rights or on Beat poets like William Burroughs and so on. Hopefully, that’s the job of the film.


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