Although Eddie and Mitch came to try their luck in the big city, they’ve been captivated by who they’ve found living right next to them.
In “Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure,” these two young men from Wisconsin take a journey to San Francisco seeking new lives. The film will make its debut in Boulder on Thursday, October 6. The event is hosted by CU’s International Film Series.
Eddie and Mitch move into a tumbledown apartment together when they arrive in San Francisco in 1987, which they deem the “Pepto Bismol Palace” for its sickening pink paint job. Peter and Raymond are their next-door neighbors.
Peter is a flamboyant gay man who lives with Raymond, a raging homophobe. After hearing the roommates going at it on the first night of their stay in the Palace, Eddie and Mitch decide to record the vicious fights. What begins as a curiosity turns into an obsession for the boys and, consequently, for the rest of the country.
“Shut Up Little Man!” goes on to detail about how Eddie and Mitch’s cassette tape recordings blew up, essentially going viral in the 1980s and 90s before “going viral” even existed. Comic artists, playwrights, musicians and film directors who used Peter and Raymond’s toxic words to fuel and inspire their own art, picked up the tapes. This was one of the most interesting aspects of the film; to see how quickly this piece of pop culture spread without the use of Smartphones, YouTube or Facebook.
Admittedly, Peter and Raymond’s aimless drunken rants get a little repetitive and the phrase, “Shut up, little man!” starts to sound like nails on a chalkboard after you hear it for the 47th time. Bate uses a pastiche of animation, 1950s film clips and sound waves against a black background in an attempt to bring some sort of life to the tired, passionless voices of the old men. However, when Eddie and Mitch’s entire endeavor is presented to the audience in the first half-hour of the film, one begins to wonder how this story can possibly be worthy of 90 minutes of screen time.
Aside from a lagging middle where Bate delves into a fruitless battle for the Peter-and-Raymond-story film rights, “Shut Up Little Man!” redeems itself with interesting comments on pop culture, the relationship among morality, art and exploitation and the human condition.
Bate touches on the moral issues that artists went through while pilfering the words of their oblivious subjects, as well as the ones Eddie and Mitch faced in releasing these private fights into the public.
However, the most powerful part of the film was a comment on the human condition. After listening to the bodiless voices on the cassette tapes, Bate and his team tracked down Peter for an interview. Here we see Peter living alone, a rundown old man with nothing really to show for his life. The physical image of Peter is in stark contrast to the voice on the recordings. Which essentially, had made a mockery of him and his life. In this bleak state, Peter says about Raymond, his seemingly sworn enemy: “He was very important in my life.”
Bate didn’t want to just make a visually pleasing film. Rather he wanted to create something that would stir audiences and make them think.
“I like that the audience be made to work, not be told what to think and to have their sensibilities challenged,” Bate said. “In documentary you need to tell this story, but also be aware of the wider themes and resonances that your story initiates.”
Was it a story worth a feature-length film? Probably not. But if you are interested in pop culture phenomena and questions of art and exploitation (and you can stand listening to two old men fighting for a full 90 minutes), then you should go check out “Shut Up Little Man” this Thursday, for yourself.
The showing begins at 7 p.m. in the Visual Arts Complex Auditorium Thursday. Tickets cost $6 with a valid student ID.
Contact CU Independent staff writer Natalie Proulx at firstname.lastname@example.org.