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Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure


When neighbors turn noxious.

Rod Lott January 16th, 2012

In 1987, two young men new to San Francisco found an affordable-enough apartment painted Pepto-Bismol pink. It was their next-door neighbors who would have them seeing red ... and later green.

shutuplittleman

See, Johnny Lee Sausage and Mitch Deprey had trouble sleeping because of the drunken arguments pouring through the paper-thin walls of the oil-and-water old men Ray and Pete, one of whom was gay, both of whom drank constantly, and neither of whom worked. Ray and Pete's nightly exchanges included slurred shouts of "cocksucker" and "fuckin' queer" and the indelible refrain, "Shut up, little man!"

In retaliation, Johnny and Mitch recorded hours of the squabbles, tapes of which they shared with friends. Eventually, the recordings circulated enough to attract the attention of zines, an indie record label, a playwright and, eventually, Hollywood sharks hungry for movie rights.

And that's just the beginnings of "Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure," an outré documentary covering the whole underground pop-culture phenomenon. In his feature-length debut, Australian director Matthew Bate has no problem telling this all-American story, because voyeurism is a global fascination.

Somewhere in the middle of the piece, Bate uses the Christian Bale on-set tirade as a jumping-off point to address the omnipresence of such things in today's YouTube generation. The film seems to suggest that if Ray and Pete's recordings were released in present-day, they'd be an instant Internet blip and then possibly forgotten, one of a million similar things uploaded that day.

I'm glad they weren't (and glad that documentaries are getting made on such wild subjects). Hearing Johnny and Mitch recount their tale is as fascinating as watching them attempt to make first-time contact with one of their recordees is discomforting. Snippets of Ray and Pete at work are almost like the doc's MacGuffin — I didn't find the inebriated recordings as funny as all the split-sides interviewees, except for the occasional baffling bon mot: "You giggle falsely!" — existing only to let Bate explore side stories of greed-tarnished friendships, of privacy invaded, of obsessive collectors, of the innate curiosity of mankind.

In other words, this "Misadventure" digs deeper than you'd expect. And yet you'll be quoting from its surface for days afterward. —Rod Lott

 
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