Conflicts in the good olde pre-meme days

Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure

on August 26, 2011 by Sara Maria Vizcarrondo

In 1987, two punks from Wisconsin relocated to San Francisco to redefine themselves in a big city. They moved into a hovel in the Haight and within days discovered their loud, bitter neighbors, Peter and Ray. The neighbors' drunken fights quickly grew unbearable, and when one punk's direct request for quiet resulted in slurred threats, the punks went passive aggressive and recorded the loudmouth pugilists. Though the punks argue the volume of their neighbor's fights made them public domain, there does seem to be something parasitic about the recordings, which resulted in surprisingly widespread cassette tradingPeter and Ray's fights became a phenomenon equivalent to a pre-internet meme. Ray was a "man's man" and a "queer hater." His roommate Peter was a "bitchy queen," the chorus of this gutter opera was his creation and even a decade later Peter had no idea he was part of an underground, cultural trend. Eddie Lee Sausage, the first to ask the men to stop their 3am screaming, transformed the recordings his roommate Mitchell D's had made from a mix-tape add-on into a purchase-able property. When finally the boys put out a full cassette of recorded fighting, it featured a disclaimer: ‘if you're going to use this for other purposes, let us know.' After Devo sampled Ray and Peter (including his bellowing "Shut Up Little Man!") and Greg Gibbs launched a successful play based on the "characters" it was clear the repurposing of those recordings could be bigger than the recordings ever had been, so the punks copyrighted them, officially laying claim to properties they themselves did relatively little to "create." With all the early-phase irony swimming around this story, director Matthew Bate's short but cutting indictment of remix culture proves that we're still in a fix about our orientations to issues of ownership and classification. The film likes to call what the punks did "audio verite," but in another age it'd be good old-fashioned eavesdroppingstill, if the tapes hadn't inspired other artists there'd be nothing to explore. After multiple comic books, art pieces, audio inventions and three unsuccessful attempts at a "Shut Up! Little Man" movie, what these guys have is a few enemies and some footage of Ray and Peter's occasional roommate and battlefield fly-on-the-wall saying, ‘They're gone? Well, I'm happy about that.' Upbeat, bitter, sweet and always gripping, Shut Up! Little Man gives remix culture the ucky origin story it likely won't heed, but could sorely use nonetheless.

Distributor: Tribecca
Director: Matthew Bate
Producer: Sophie Hyde
Genre: Documentary
Rating: Unrated
Running time: 90 min.
Release date: August 26 SF, September 16 NY/LA


Tags: Matthew Bate, Sophie Hyde

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