August 15, 2011


Shut up Little Man! documents a cult phenomenon I had no previous awareness of. This was a pre-internet phenomenon, so it comes as no small surprise it never made it to these shores. Also, the fact that it was/is such a strange, niche thing could have something to do with it. In the late 80's, two young guys move to California and, with them being regular, young guys move into a shitty apartment with paper-thin walls. In the adjacent apartment live Peter and Ray; two old drunks who engage in profane shouting matches with one another. The two kids, "Eddie Lee Sausage" and "Mitch D", begin to record these obscenity-fuelled, high-volume exchanges; first as a "just in case something happens to us" and then quickly mutating into something else. The guys share the recordings with friends, include snippets of arguments in homemade mix-tapes (yes. Tapes) and generally spread them around. A pop culture sensation is born.

Portions of the recordings are dotted throughout the documentary and they are relatively funny, in a puerile sort of way. Ray is an unrepentant redneck homophobe, while Peter is a bitchy queen of the highest order. The fascination with their living arrangements is what drives a lot of the interest in the recordings, in addition to the actual content. But I just didn't get the hilarity of the recordings; perhaps it was because snippets were only ever parcelled out during the runtime, rather than a full recording ever being played.

As is generally the case, it's what happens after that is the most interesting. The recordings take on a life of their own - there are audio-nuts who hunt down the original tape recordings, there are comic strips illustrated around the recordings, there is even plays and, at one point, three separate films in development all based around the recordings of two drunks shouting at each other. And, of course, as the phenomenon gets bigger "Sausage" and "Mitch D" try and exert some sort of control over it - moving the tapes from copyright free, to copyrighted. That in of itself opens up a whole lot of legal questions, but it's really the questions around what is "art" and what the line is between "art" and exploitation that drove my thinking of the film. These two guys, who recorded their abusive neighbours without their consent (possibly without their knowledge - they noticed the first time, but they may have been too drunk to remember) are, more than 20 years later, still making money off them. The tussle between art and commerce is a fairly strong throughline even if the documentary itself is less interested in asking these questions and more interested in simply laying out the "behind the scenes" tales. 

Shut up Little Man! manages to cover a lot of ground for such a niche cult happening, if only it could have delved a little more into the effects and the questions that naturally arise. 

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