In 1987 two friends, Eddie and Mitch, relocated from their hometown in Wisconsin to San Francisco, looking to leave behind their small town beginnings and move onto something bigger and better. The first (and cheapest) place they found was a ramshackle apartment building in the Lower Haight district, so they quickly moved in.
It wasn’t until a few days later that they discovered their neighbours were two raging alcoholics who loudly hurled verbal abuse at each other into the wee hours of the morning. These neighbours were Peter Haskett, a flamboyant homosexual and Raymond Huffman, a violent homophobe. When these epic slinging matches began to sound out of control, Eddie made the decision to surreptitiously record the arguments in case the need for evidence may ever arise. But soon the boys realised that this was just the reality these two men lived: getting drunker and drunker until well into the evening when they would begin to goad each other into the inebriated trading of (often witty and hilarious) insults, one of Peter’s favourites being “Shut up li’l man!”.
Before long the boys had boxes of tapes filled with uproarious “audio vérité” which they began to make copies of for friends, encouraging them to spread it around. And before they knew it the tapes had made their way into the tape trading underground and sspiraledinto a pop culture phenomenon spawning plays, comic books, a film and even a puppet show. Shut Up Little Man! details this journey via interviews with Eddie and Mitch as well as anecdotes from personalities such as Dan Clowes, Henry Rosenthal, Ivan Brunetti, Mike Mitchell and Bob Mothersbaugh.
Before I saw this film I’d come across the Shut Up Little Man! tapes in various guises, whether it be via samples in music (John Zorn’s Cobra to be specific) or in Bananafish magazine. I knew the back-story and was curious to see how well it would translate into a feature length documentary… well, I’m happy to say that director Matthew Bate has nailed it. Bate takes the “found sound” concept and applies it to the film medium flawlessly – in between the talking heads we are treated to collage-style cut ‘n’ pastings of 1950s adverts with Ray’s homophobic rants edited over the audio, colourful cassette tape art, reenactments, animation, and numerous audio samples.
Aside from exploring the cult value these tapes have to so many people, the documentary also covers a 3-way battle for the film rights, the inevitable “exploitation or art?” question, and the hunt for Pete and Ray’s occasional tenant/spectator Tony.
All things considered, Matthew Bate has produced a highly enjoyable document that portrays humanity at its lowest point, both tragic and comedic.
An excellent release from Madman that includes 45 minutes of worthwhile extras.
- Dramatic Recreations: Extended and New Cuts
- “Return to the Pepto” – Eddie and Mitch revisit Steiner Street apartment
- Art of Exploitation? Eddie and Mitch respond
- “Eddie and Mitch On Set”
- “Goodnight Sweet Princes”
- Extended Interview with Dan Clowes
- Extended Interview with Ivan Brunetti
- Bob Taicher Interview
- Detroit shock jocks Drew and Mike @WRIF Radio interview
- “Peter and Raymond Confusion” – DOUG LEVY Music Video
- Orson Welles – Frozen Peas Extended Animation Cut
Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure is available on DVD from Madman Entertainment.