In the early 80s, two broke ass dudes with no prospects moved into a cheap, run down San Francisco apartment. Soon after, they realised the paper thin walls let them hear every argument their neighbours had. And their neighbours had a lot of arguments. Frustration at the noise gave way to being entertained by the bizarre vitriol, which gave way to absolute fascination with the two powder kegs of anger, insults and abuse. Then, the two broke ass dudes pressed record on their cassette deck and cult following was born.
Shut Up Little Man: An Audio Misadventure is the story of those two dudes, Eddie Lee Sausage and Mitchell D, and their two angry, drunken neighbours, Peter Haskett and Raymond Huffman. Peter and Raymond are dead… Eddie and Mitchell have grown up, moved on and started families since their time in the cheap, run down San Franciscan apartment, but it seems like they are forever tied to the Shut Up Little Man phenomenon they were all a part of all those years ago.
Peter and Raymond were two alcoholics who shared an apartment despite seeming to despise one another. Eddie and Mitchell built a collection of dozens of cassette tapes of the venomous arguments their neighbours would have. Homophobic slurs, threats of physical violence and continued use of the phrase “shut up little man” filled hours of tape. Hours of tape shared by their friends. Hours of tape that found their way all over America via an underground market of found audio enthusiasts.
While Shut Up Little Man uses the story arc of these four men for its main narrative structure, it also uses it to ask questions about the ethics involved in recording someone, who owns the rights to the audio and what obligation the recorders have to the recordees. It also addresses the fact that these questions are much more relevant today with modern technology making it so simple for absolutely everyone to record and share every aspect of their life. Thankfully, it doesn’t spend too much time on these questions, because the hilarious and tragic story of Peter and Ray is just too good to stray from for too long.
Although, the sequence involving Eddie, Mitchell, a play write, several movie producers, and everyone screwing everyone while they try to make movie deals behind each other’s backs is pretty great. It’s the classic story of a little bit of fame helping people discover their inner asshole. And that’s always entertaining. Especially when the snippets you see of the eventual movie make it look so terrible. Everyone loses because no one wanted to share.
Shut Up Little Man became an industry. Comic books, plays, movie deals and an ongoing source of income for Eddie Lee Sausage have all sprung from two people recording two other people arguing. And the fact that this happened long before camera phones and Youtube really is amazing.
Even with Peter and Ray no longer alive, director Matthew Bate finds a way to add some sort of closure to their story and in a way, even almost give them a happy ending. Did Eddie and Mitchell exploit two vulnerable men? I don’t know. Peter Haskett didn’t seem to worry about it, so I guess we, as an audience, can relax too.