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Published: January 22, 2012 at 6:09 am
Living in an apartment means giving up certain things, such as a degree of privacy and silence. One can choose not to know one’s neighbors, but sights, sounds, and smells reinforce their presence. Sometimes the things our neighbors are doing involve us in their lives, leaving us to make momentous decisions based on judging whether, for instance, the fight downstairs has escalated to the point where we should call the police.
When Eddie and Mitch, two recent college graduates, rented an apartment in San Francisco (1987), the absentee landlord advised them--after they signed the lease--that their next door neighbors were sometimes loud. What the landlord didn’t mention was that the two guys next door, Ray and Peter, had a habit of getting drunk and trading obscenity-laced invective, often into the early morning hours, and usually at the top of their voices. When one of the young men complained about the noise and Ray threatened to kill him, Eddie and Mitch began taping the fights. Thus Shut Up Little Man! was launched.
Independent filmmaker Matthew Bate chronicled the evolution of Ray and Peter’s relationship from the overheard ranting of obnoxious neighbors to pop culture phenomenon in his 2011 documentary Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Adventure. Eddie and Mitch continued to surreptitiously tape the men screaming at each other, then shared the tapes with their friends. Soon, the annoyance went viral in a pre-internet/cell phone kind of way.
Soon there were comic books, take-offs, a play, songs, a CD, and several parties competing to be the first to make a movie about Ray and Peter. Politics, backstabbing, and lost friendships followed. The recordings are funny and have a host of fans, but when we meet an older Peter and a third party--Tony, a man who sometimes stayed with Peter and Ray--the sadness of those involved outweighs the humor.
Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Adventure does what good documentaries should; it makes us examine our own attitudes and feelings. While we can laugh at the name-calling and drunkenness, it’s not all that amusing when you put human faces to it. In telling the story of the two pairs of men (Eddie and Mitchell, and Peter and Ray), Matthew Bate also questions the ethics of audio verité, secretly recording the conversations of others as “art,” offering it for the audience’s consideration.
Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Adventure is presented by Tribeca Film in partnership with American Express. It will be available January 24, 2012, on digital and DVD.