Sometime in the late eighties, Eddie Lee Savage and his friend Mitch moved into a shitty San Francisco apartment that they derisively nickname “The Pepto-Bismol Palace” because of its revolting pink and white exterior colour scheme. Their neighbours, a flamboyant homosexual named Peter and a raging homophobe named Ray, argue day and night—the title of Matthew Bate’s documentary, “Shut Up Little Man!,” is the most common string of words to emanate from their small rented room. Eddie and Mitch attach a microphone to a ski pole and angle it around the corner out their balcony window to capture for posterity the hilarious madness next door. “Audio vérité,” someone calls it by means of establishing the scene; “found sounds and phone pranks.”
This being the pre-digital era, the recordings exist only on cassette tapes, and so the film attempts to survey the analog tape-swapping culture prevalent back then: the duo trades edited and dubbed versions of their neighbours’ arguments, and create what would these days be labelled “a viral sensation.” The only problem is that the film runs through the history of the era so quickly that it reaches its logical temporal conclusion—Internet file-swapping—by the 30-minute mark. The remainder of the film (it continues for about an hour) is little more than laboured retellings of barely remembered events, and a frustrated search for the original pranksters. The lunatical ravings of Peter and Ray were lovingly immortalised in comic form (Daniel Clowes is briefly interviewed in that capacity), and Eddie and Mitch managed to locate an extraordinarily reluctant Peter some time in 1995.
They recorded a few interviews with him, but it’s at this point that the film becomes both sad in its obsessive quest to pester an eccentric geriatric, and ostentatious in its claims (that the original tapes in some sense constituted ‘high art’—albeit hugely unintentional art). What is initially fascinating soon becomes repetitive and, eventually, banal: there are (and will be) better documentaries about cassette-tape culture and its modern-day resurgence, and there are dozens of funnier ‘audio misadventures’ scattered across the Internet.
Shut Up Little Man!: an Audio Misadventure is out now on DVD through Madman.
Special features include deleted scenes, audio outtakes, and the film’s theatrical trailer.