Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure

Australia | 2011 | Directed by Matthew Bate

Logline: When two friends tape-recorded the mostly verbal fights of their noisy and eccentric neighbors, they accidentally created one of the world’s first “viral” pop-culture sensations. This is their story.

Audio verité is the term used to describe real-life recordings made surreptitiously. These can include found sounds and phone pranks. When twenty-something university students Eddie Lee Sausage and Mitchell D. (Mitch Deprey) moved into The Pepto-Bismol Palace, a cheap pink stucco unit, 4/237 Steiner Ave, San Francisco, in 1987, little did they know they were moving adjacent to an encapsulated phenomenon just waiting for the unofficial release form. A couple years down the track Mitch and Eddie and had a piece of pop-culture cult history in their hands.

“I love people. I love the world. I love life. But I sure as fuck can’t love a piece of shit!” — Raymond Huffman

Peter Haskett and Raymond Huffman were the classic odd couple. You couldn’t write better characters for a hit sitcom. Peter was middle-aged and homosexual and Ray was middle-aged and straight-as-an-arrow. When they were sober they were best of friends. They shared an apartment, they even shared a room, with a cheap Formica dining table separating their single beds. But when they got drunk - and they were drunk most of the time - they fought like kings and queens. Verbal abuse was hurled back and forth at loud volume. The walls of each apartment were made with “snot and cardboard” according to Eddie, and so the two students could hear the mud-slinging as clear as day.

“I got a decent dinner ready. Nothing happened with the dinner. Because you crucified it. You ruined it. God damn you!” — Peter Haskett

Within a week of their arrival Eddie and Mitch were exposed to what would become a dependable and hilarious routine from their next-door neighbors. As Eddie puts it, “Evenings charged with belligerent rants, hateful harangues, drunken soliloquies, death threats, and the sound of wrestling bodies thumping against the wall that separated their apartments.”

“If you wanna talk to me, then shut your fuckin' mouth!” — Raymond

But it was following a middle of the night confrontation with Ray that left Eddie with the willies and sparked the two lads into deciding they should record the violent matches issuing from next door in case anything actually criminal went down. So they taped a microphone to an old lamp stand connected it up to their cassette recorder and when the shouting began they opened their window and probed the mic alongside their neighbours’ window. The funny thing is that Ray and Peter soon realised they were being recorded but didn’t care. And therein lies the subtle Rub.

“What did you do during the war? You were wounded? Yeah. Bullshit. You were maybe wounded when you fell over your bayonet when you were drunk.” — Peter

What is almost immediately obvious is that once Eddie and Mitch started inviting friends over on the night rent was due (almost guaranteed arguments from next door) then they were doing it for the lulz, as the modern expression goes. But the whole shebang really took off after Eddie and Mitch started giving tapes of the verbal assaults to friends who would then bootleg the recordings and give them to others. Soon enough Ray and Peter's clandestine audio files were worldwide, being satirised by famous cartoonists and inspiring playwrights and filmmakers. The collection of recordings became known as Shut Up, Little Man!, one of Peter’s favourite digs at Ray.

“I can kill you from a sitting position.” — Raymond

Matthew Bate has fashioned a superbly entertaining, and surprisingly poignant documentary. Using a cut-and-paste visual style, recreations, and posing intelligent questions about morality and exploitation, pop-culture, fame and infamy, and the true nature of art, Shut Up Little Man! is more than a document of a curious misadventure, it’s a wonderful pre-Internet date stamp, and a sly nod to the X-Generation. It’s essential viewing/listening for voyeuristic freaks and audio geeks, and those with a zany sense of humour.

"You always giggle falsely. You don’t have a decent giggle in you.” — Peter Haskett