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Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure

Posted by martinteller on December 13, 2012

In the mid 1990’s, as a young man with my share of ironic sensibilities, I owned the “Shut Up Little Man!” CD.  It was a series of recordings made by “Eddie Lee Sausage” and “Mitchell D” in their apartment from 1987 to 1989.  They had been taping the two middle-aged men next door, Raymond and Peter (and occasionally their friend Tony), who would constantly get into screaming, drunken and sometimes violent arguments.  There was an amusing Schadenfreude to it, especially with Peter’s often peculiar or witty ways of putting things (“You always giggle falsely!” was a particular favorite of mine).  It was his constant refrain of “Shut up, little man!” that gave the album its title.  Yes, it was funny… but also disturbing, and you wondered what was going on with these two.  Peter was clearly gay and Raymond clearly hated gays.  Were they old pals, whose friendship was repeatedly soured by alcohol?  Did they have some kind of self-hating sexual relationship?  Why did they keep living together?

Unfortunately, this documentary does little to answer these questions.  Raymond and Peter both died in the 90’s.  There is a brief archival interview with Peter from when someone was trying to make a movie about them, but there’s very little of substance in it.  They manage to track down Tony, and with the help of $100 and some beer they get some info out of him, but again, it leaves you wanting to know more about the love-hate friendship between these two explosive individuals.

Instead, the film focuses primarily on Eddie and Mitch, who kind of come off like sleazy, hipster douchebags.  Eddie especially, who in addition to selling all kinds of Raymond & Peter merchandise, hawks copies of their death certificates.  The director, Matthew Bale, does little to explore the morality of all this.  The question is given some screen time, but it pretty much gets brushed off.  I will say the doc is quite thorough in setting up the background, explaining the culture of tape trading before the age of YouTube, getting into the pleasures of “audio vérité”, and the sticky legal issues and rifts that arose as the recordings became an underground sensation.  There is definitely interesting material here, even if the main subjects (and some of the other interviewees) aren’t very likable.  But the film, like the recordings themselves, leave you feeling a bit ashamed of yourself for taking part in it.

And the filmmaking style is far too quirky.  The use of actors to play Raymond and Peter just feels totally wrong.  There’s too much tongue-in-cheek usage of stock footage (putting Raymond’s words in Hitler’s mouth — seriously?) and it all feels too busy.  They also do this thing that seems to be all the rage in documentaries lately, taking a still photo and somehow making the foreground “float” and move over the background.  I don’t know what this technique is called, but I’ve seen it so much lately (just the other day, in fact, in Talhotblond) that it’s starting to feel tiresome.

If you are interested in the Raymond and Peter phenomenon, this film will possibly satisfy you, if you can overlook the somewhat annoying presentation.  If you are interested in Raymond and Peter themselves, you’ll probably be frustrated.  Rating: Poor (54)


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