Friday, September 23, 2011


I never really bought into the 1990s “SHUT UP, LITTLE MAN” phenomenon as a signpost of underground cultural caché. The struggles of two real-life, aging San Francisco roommate alcoholics who drunkenly screamed at each other for hours was documented, audio vérité style, with a live mic by two twentysomething neighbors. The resulting tapes, mass-circulated in the pre-Internet days, turned into a sort of hipster/nihilist badge of ironic mockery made popular by Bananafish magazine and then on from there. Before long, “Peter” and “Raymond” had amassed an army of giggling, chortling “fans” who drew comics about them, wrote plays about them, and wrote screenplays documenting their antics. This was completely unbeknownst to the poor saps who were documented fighting and cursing. One died without even having the faintest whiff of knowledge about the worldwide underground scenester guffawing about him, and the other, as is obvious from this film, barely comprehended it when told about it a year before he too passed from life.

“SHUT UP LITTLE MAN – AN AUDIO MISADVENTURE” is a documentary that, nonetheless, I felt I had to see. Early 90s San Francisco, particularly the underground nexus of music, film and fanzine culture, played a pretty big role in my life at the time. Making sense of this whole misbegotten phenomenon might, I thought, be worthwhile as well. As it turns out this is a pretty solid film. The stars are the original guys who made the tapes, “Mitchell D” and “Eddie Lee Sausage”, who will go to their graves with the whole Shut Up Little Man thing as their contribution to the low cultural arts. They discuss, both with humor and remorse, their original decision to record the fights going on next door. These fights kept them from sleeping, and had a layer of weirdness that unfolded each night that was far more interesting than just two drunks yelling at each other. One elderly roommate was homosexual; the other a horrific homophobe. The things they shouted at each other soared far beyond typical insults into the surreal, and when combined with alcohol, could be positively quote-worthy - which is what prompted all the recording.

The whole sad spectacle snowballed once it began to be shared on hand-traded tapes, and was soon in Los Angeles as a play, and being drawn by Dan Clowes and others as comics. The film talks about how it grew too large for Mitch & Eddie to control, and for a while, it actually looked like some real money might be made by someone from telling this story – again, with zero knowledge by the men who were being so honored. I do know that the Greg Gibbs play shown in multiple clips looks like one of the worst single-night experiences in the history of culture, and it’s hard to believe that the story wasn’t immediately murdered by his awful sub-Kuchar telling of it.

This documentary really tries to close the books as best it can, and does quite a lot of good with found footage, first-person interviews, and some intrepid staking out of one surviving hanger-on from Peter & Raymond’s lives. I found the questions raised in the film about the appropriateness of all folks involved’s actions to be the right ones, though they were not satisfactorily answered by any stretch. It’s simply a fun, well put-together documentary that’s worth a rep house theater visit or a stream to your TV if you get the chance.