Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure – Movie Review

A film of found audio footage that goes beyond the imagination. A heartbreaking miracle. One of the best surprises of the New York New Directors New Films festival, “Shut Up Little Man” is the defining film about the neighbors from hell.

After college graduation in 1987, Mitch Deprey and Eddie Lee Sausage moved to San Francisco in search of their dream. They moved to the “South of Market” neighborhood pre-gentrification and became part of America’s alcoholic paradise.

Living in one of the cheapest buildings ever constructed, with paper-thin walls, they became real life witnesses to “War and Peace” written from the bowels of skid row. They came to know neighbors Pete and Ray like brothers.

Peter Haskett and Raymond Huffman turn out to be normal guys, when they are not drinking. In fact it was several weeks before Mitch and Eddie heard the first fight between the guys next door.

However, once it started, it went on for several days. The two men were screaming obscenities at each other at the top of their lungs day and night as they ricocheted off the walls, the bottles and each other and drove themselves ever further into deep alcoholic psychopathy.

Probably, this experience is not all that unusual across America, at least not amongst the tightly packed city dwellers in working class vertical neighborhoods. Everybody hears neighbors popping off now and then.

The unusual thing about Pete and Ray was that they took their fights to Olympian levels while managing to keep their horrifying invectives at the intelligence level of fishes. Their brains and their dialog were tunnel-visioned with uncontrollable and unarticulable rage. This is a film making a statement of primal significance.

At the onset of the first battle and resultant sleepless night, the young men confronted the raging just-under-60-year-olds and asked them to quiet down. Apparently, the fighting, staggering, alcohol sodden men barely understood the point of the interruption. They had a discussion going on and they were incapable of fathoming why anybody, neighbor or otherwise, would choose to stop it.

Mitch and Eddie’s first recording was done in self-defense. They reasoned that if they could record the beastly expletives pounding through their wall 24 hours a day they could play them back into their neighbors’ apartment.

This would either embarrass them into controlling themselves or knock something loose in their heads and cause a behavior change. After too many sleepless nights of being at ringside they believed it could not get worse.

Playing back the recordings proved to have no effect on their neighbors, who seemed only dimly aware that they were being recorded at all. The truth being stranger than fiction, the recording had a much more powerful effect on Mitch and Eddie. They thought the sound tracks were hilarious.

When you hear the samples in the film, you will very likely agree. The obscene, blunt-edged and enraged dialogue lasts for what seems like forever. The invectives have a staying power that leaps through apartment walls like Munch’s “The Scream” leaps from the canvas. Simon and Garfunkel said the words of the prophets were written on the subway walls.

This is the soundtrack of diseased dead end despair being broadcast live into our living space.

The recordings became a source of entertainment and were played for friends coming over for a beer. Later, the tapes were duplicated and given away free with no copyright protection (Mitch and Eddie could not imagine they would be worth anything). Ten years later the recordings were national phenomena.

Clearly, the tapes had gone viral. They spread across American long before the Internet made viral information spread a household term.

This film is one of the darkest of dark comedies. In the end the two recorders are caught up in their own web of lost profits, royalty squabbles and ethical dilemma as they struggle to pay the comatose Pete and Ray for their unintended contributions. The story became a successful live production and the sound bites started showing up everywhere, in the most unexpected places.

Some documentaries take on lives of their own and serendipitously become the most precious of the documentary productions. They start with documentary footage being shot before the filmmakers even know they are making a film (“Capturing the Friedmans”) and then film takes over the filmmakers.

This film rarely shows Ray, Pete or their friend Tony. It is just disconnected voices, an audio documentary where the path is charted without any control. The result is both miraculous and heartbreaking.

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Directed and Written by: Matthew Bate
Featuring: Eddie Lee Sausage, Ivan Brunetti, Daniel Clowes and Mitch Deprey 
Release Date: New Directors New Films Festival—New York
MPAA: Not Rated
Runtime: 85 minutes
Country: Australia / USA
Language: English
Color: Color