Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Day 91: Shut Up Little Man: An Audio Misadventure

"If you wanna talk to me, then shut your fucking mouth!"

The best thing about having Netflix instant is the fact that I am able to see tons of documentaries that I didn't previously have access to. There were lots that I'd heard about and couldn't track down before, and then there are ones I've just stumbled across by pure happenstance that I wonder why I haven't heard of. The documentary I watched last night is one that I hadn't heard of before, but it's actually the summation of a fairly large, underground phenomenon, or at least the film posits it to be.

Shut Up Little Man: An Audio Misadventure tells the story of former roommates Eddie Lee Sausage & Mitchell D, who lived together in a ramshackle apartment building in San Francisco in the mid-1980s. Eddie & Mitch soon found out that they had some pretty loud neighbors: Two guys who stayed up until all hours of the night drunkenly & verbally berating and abusing one another. One of them is violent, raging homophobe Ray, and the other is whiny old gay man Peter. Pretty soon, Eddie & Mitch got the idea to begin recording their rows with a microphone hooked onto a ski pole and placed outside their window. Before long, their apartment became the place to be, with listening parties happening on any given night, and copies of the tapes being made and handed out to friends.

Much like Jack Rebney of Winnebago Man from a few weeks back, Peter & Ray's epic battles became a cult phenomenon completely unbeknownst to the subjects involved. I certainly can't compare the merit of one film's existence to another, but this film does tread a lot of the same ground that the vastly superior Winnebago Man did, namely the concept of ownership in a viral marketplace. Eddie & Mitch lived through the ordeal & created and duplicated the tapes themselves, so they feel that they have ownership of the material. Initially they put a disclaimer on the tapes that said that people were free to use the material for their own purposes, as long as they contacted them first to let them know what the use was for.

In the early 90s, a guy named Gregg Gibbs turned the tapes into a stage play. At first Eddie & Mitch seemed receptive to the whole thing, particularly when Gibbs mentioned turning it into a feature film. Eddie & Mitch decided to copyright the material at this point in time, and suddenly found themselves on the outs with Gibbs, who decided to pursue a separate deal to turn his play into a film. Inevitably this led to a third person, who was friends with Mitch, to also try and turn it into a film. So at one point in time, there were three separate versions of these tapes attempting to be made into a film.

Only one film ended up getting made around 1999, interestingly enough by a fourth person, although it was based on Gibbs' play, called Shut Yer Dirty Little Mouth which starred Glenn Shadix (Otho from Beetlejuice) as Peter. The tapes have been turned into animated shorts, puppet shorts, comics done by the likes of "Ghost World" creator Daniel Clowes & I. Brunetti. Yet through all of this, Eddie & Mitch have maintained a feeling of ownership over the whole affair which has led them to pursue the real Peter & Ray, to find out who they actually were.

As I said, a lot of this same ground is covered in other films, the whole notion of viral video before the internet, who owns what, and how did it affect the people involved. The film is mildly amusing, if for no other reason than a lot of what these two said to one another was very funny, but on the whole, without participation from either of the actual men (both of whom have passed on), it's sadly lacking in any real sort of perspective on how the whole thing has affected, or not, their lives.

If you find yourself out of docs to watch and you've already seen Winnebago Man, I would recommend this in that instance, but if there's other stuff to watch, watch it first. Ultimately it comes down to the fact that the film presents very little perspective other than a bunch of genuinely unlikable dudes arguing over the ownership of something that doesn't really belong to anyone.

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