Shut Up Little Man! (out now on DVD via Tribeca Films) is much like Winnebago Man, in that it’s a bit of personal entertainment that, due to popular dissemination via cassettes (audio and video) in the pre-Internet age, grows beyond its beginnings between friends into a global phenomenon.
The credits feature a definition of “audio verite,” along with various famous bits of such — the Orson Welles commercial flipout, prank calls, and the like. This sets the stage for the story of how the recordings two young men made of their arguing neighbors came to be known worldwide.
As told by filmmakers Matthew Bate and Bryan Mason, Shut Up Little Man! is the story of Eddie and Mitch, two guys in San Francisco who recorded their neighbors, Peter and Raymond, and their abusive verbal interactions with one another. It’s profane, ridiculous, and astounding that something this culturally pervasive has never been completely explained.
The filmmakers contrast the Peter and Raymond phenomenon, and its slow ascent from underground tape trading to release on a Matador subsidiary, with how quickly something like Christian Bale’s rant became fodder for late-night talk show hosts. While Shut Up Little Man! is a rumination on a cultural touchstone, it’s also a document of a bygone era, wherein something would bubble under for years before breaking.
Recordings are played onscreen, with live-action recreations, shot out-of-focus, allowing the voices to gain faces and physicality. The dramatic reenactments lend some reality to what would otherwise exist as theater of the mind. Granted, that’s how this existed for decades, being interpreted on stage, comics, and in animation, without anyone having any idea as to the appearance of Peter and Raymond.
“It’ll just burn the hair off your ears. It’s still shocking the fiftieth time you hear it.” – comic artist Daniel Clowes
The film spins out near the end, with the tale of how the Shut Up Little Man! documentary itself came to be made, and what started out as “fun” becomes a serious financial thing. What was originally a bright, cartoonish, bit of fluff turns dark and sadly, disturbingly real. An abstraction becomes a solid human being with a drinking problem.
Still, it’s a decidedly fascinating story, and evening this is your first introduction to the material, you will find it riveting. These are two characters in the truest of senses.