Fans of found object kitsch and pop cultural static may be familiar with the phrase "Shut up, little man." It's the signature line from the surreptitiously taped fights of chronically drunk and foul-mouthed San Francisco roommates Peter, who was gay, and Raymond, who was bitterly homophobic.
The tapes were recorded in the late 1980s by Eddie Lee Sausage and Mitchel Deprey, who, fresh out of college, moved to the Bay Area and took the cheap apartment next door. They dubbed outtakes from the verbal wars onto cassette tapes they shared with friends, and those spread to other traders. Eventually, clips made it onto offbeat radio shows, comic artists started to chronicle their visions of Peter and Ray, and the new wave band Devo used some of the recordings as dubbed lyrics for a song, "Shut Up Little Man," of course. Then there were puppet show dramatizations of the duo, a stage play and eventually competing film projects.
Matthew Bates' Shut Up Little Man: An Audio Misadventure starts at the beginning, following Mitch and Eddie from Wisconsin to San Francisco. They recount taking the apartment and why they started taping their neighbors and sharing the recordings. Bates cleverly dubs recorded rants over film of Hitler making an impassioned speech and stock footage of a 1950s married couple having a spat. Then he focuses on the various comic and dramatic projects that appropriated Peter and Ray's dialogue, which Mitch and Eddie first disseminated explicitly labeled as free use. They tried to copyright the recordings in 1994.
Bates' film is best when playing the original tapes and recounting the projects they inspired. He then follows two threads. Eddie and Mitch try to discover the true nature of Peter and Ray's relationship. And Bates follows the development of competing film projects, which asks some interesting questions about the nature of surreptitiously recorded conversations as intellectual property. Unfortunately, the film redacts many of the names of the studio people involved in the competition for rights, and it doesn't really answer some of the questions. But the truly raw footage is outrageous and entertaining, and it's an almost nostalgic look at underground culture and how things went viral just before the Internet. Tickets $7 general admission, $6 students/seniors, $5 Zeitgeist members. — Will Coviello