On one hand, the film is a conventional biographical documentary which details Stedman’s rise to prominence during the 1970s. On the other, it seems as though it is merely the means for Johnny Depp, the “curator” for the audience’s experience, to hang out with Stedman. It makes one feel almost unwelcome in watching the film, as if we are intruding on Depp’s play time with Stedman.
The role of Depp within the film is one of the most striking and contentious elements throughout the whole of the documentary. Though he does fulfil a need in being the individual who directs the action (for lack of a better phrase) with Stedman, his ultimate role within the film is a questionable one.
Beyond Depp’s tampering, Paul portrays Stedman as a man who is on the verge of fully retreating from the world. Cooped up in his studio within his modest house, Stedman comes off as an admirable individual who is still caught in the shadow Thompson continues to cast upon his life and work. It seems unfortunate that the crux of Stedman’s identity and legacy is so closely knit with that of Thompson’s. The film makes it clear that though Stedman has truly come into his own as an artist, he is still trying to find his true purpose — Stedman’s relationship with Gonzo journalism and its legacy left a detrimental impact upon him as a person, something which he is almost over-countering in his current work with organizations such as the UN and his self-proclaimed importance as a kind of noble knight trying to make the world a better place.
In the end, the documentary serves to illustrate that while Ralph Stedman is a brilliant illustrator and artist in his own right, he owes a great debt to fate for pairing him with Hunter S. Thompson in the 1970s. For, adept as he is, Stedman’s success and legacy, which he fondly says is bordering on “visual pollution,” will forever be tied to that Thompson and his Gonzo ways.
By Rory O’Dwyer