Top of the Docs #18 – ‘Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure’ (2011)

Have you ever had a noisy neighbor? Eddie Lee Sausage and Mitchell D. certainly have. While living in a rundown pink apartment building in San Francisco, lovingly dubbed the “Pepto-Bismol Palace,” the two men were kept up for nights on end by the loud, vitriolic arguments of their older next door neighbors. Although initially annoyed by the incessant noise, Eddie Lee and Mitchell began to find humor in their situation as the nights wore on and eventually decided to start recording the nightly arguments to share with their friends. The audio verité recordings were a hit and the cassette tapes containing them spread like wildfire across San Francisco, going viral before the concept of “going viral” was a part of the popular consciousness.

Matthew Bate’s documentary film, “Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure,” documents the story of Eddie Lee and Mitchell’s initial recordings and attempts to make sense of the inherent humor and relatability of the strange pop culture sensation. Although the often repetitive recordings of real life arguments don’t immediately seem like a compelling topic for a documentary, “Shut Up Little Man!” manages to be consistently engaging throughout its 90 minute runtime, weaving a well-rounded story about every facet of its subject with an impeccable sense of structure and editing.

littlemanImage courtesy of  South Australian Film Corporation’s FilmLab Initiative and Tribeca Film

Perhaps the strangest aspect of this “stranger than fiction” story is the astonishing reach that the tapes managed to have in a time before the internet popularized such voyeuristic recordings. Although today you can go to YouTube and find hundreds of “crazy neighbor” stories with first-hand footage of their subjects, the Shut Up Little Man! audio recordings were somewhat of a unique oddity at the time of their recording in 1987. Their uniqueness led to the tapes’ significant impact on the underground art world with comic artists such as Daniel Clowes and Ivan Brunetti bringing the arguments to life in grotesque cartoon drawings, and playwright Gregg Gibbs creating a stage play based on the tapes’ transcripts. Bate interviews some of these artists for the film, all of whom speak to the tapes’ distinctive quality and their unintentional portrayal of the human condition. 

The audio tape recordings certainly aren’t for everyone, with all of them including incessant profanity and most containing virulent homophobia, but the history behind the tapes and exploration of the reach they managed to have is an unquestionably interesting one that muses on the kinds of qualities that make a piece of media go “viral.” Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure is a fun, easy watch of a pop culture deep-dive, perfect for any lazy afternoon or late night kept awake by the sounds of loudmouthed neighbors.

Official Trailer for “Shut Up Little Man!: An Audio Misadventure
Featured image courtesy of NY Times.