IN 1987, two aspiring bohemians who met at the University of Wisconsin, Mitch Deprey and Eddie Guerriero—soon to be immortalized as "Mitchell D and Eddie Lee Sausage"—left the Midwest for San Francisco. They moved into a funky apartment where they soon discovered that their new next-door neighbors were a modern-day odd couple, only more depressing. One, Raymond, a virulent homophobe in love with the word "cocksucker"; the other, Peter, a sassy gay man prone to rejoinders of "SHUT UP, LITTLE MAN!," both of them sad alcoholics who inexplicably shared a one-room apartment (along with an occasional third roommate, Tony, an even more bitter drunk). Raymond and Peter's vulgar, late-night scream fights were so entertaining that Mitch and Eddie started recording them, sharing the tapes with friends (who in turn shared them with their friends), all of them captivated by the duo's bizarre relationship and quotable one-liners ("I'm not dead! I will tell you if I'm dead"). Soon, the "Shut Up, Little Man" tapes had spawned comics, a stage play, and three competing film projects—a viral, found-comedy sensation in the days before the internet.
Phew, that was expository, wasn't it? Much like my first paragraph, at times, Matthew Bate's documentary groans under the weight of the prologue. Trying to untangle the confusing knot of relationships that led to three competing film projects is less fascinating than it is exhausting—not to mention trying to parse the rights issues that eventually caused those projects to collapse (Byzantine under normal circumstances, you can imagine what a nightmare determining copyright is when two guys record two other guys without their permission, and then another set of guys write a film based on that).
But just when you're about to give up, Shut Up, Little Man! hits its stride, narrowing the focus to the subjects of the original recordings—what happened to them? What did they think about the tapes? Did they get gay with each other when no one was looking? It takes the form of an in-search-of doc or a mystery, such that when they finally catch up to lone surviving roommate Tony, actually seeing him describe Peter as "fruitier than a goddamn pineapple" is strangely cathartic. The only drawback is an obnoxious digression where Bate asks Mitch and Eddie whether they consider their recordings "art." There's an obvious answer to this question, and it's "WHO FUCKING CARES?" Art schmart, the recordings are a strange little slice of history, that's why people love them so much. Asking whether two shouty old drunks trying to booze themselves to death were being exploited just seems a tad precious for my jaded, internet-deadened ass. But here I am wanting to argue about the content rather than the method—the mark of a successful documentary if ever there was one.