‘Shut Up’ and Listen!

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We’ve all had noisy neighbors. In college it’s inevitable due to the thin walls of campus housing; in the real world, it’s the luck of the draw.

When Mitchell “Mitch” D and Eddie Sausage moved to San Francisco in the late 80′s, they end up moving next to Peter Haskett and Raymond Huffman, two belligerent, alcoholic old men. Mitch and Eddie decide to tape-record their neighbors’ arguments. What follows is pop-culture gold.

That’s the premise of “Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure.” A feature documentary premiering in Hartford this Friday, the film recounts how D and Sausage’s noisy neighbors become accidentally immortalized. The film was an official Sundance Selection for 2011 and is being distributed by Tribeca Film.

Three weeks after moving into their apartment on 237 Seiter Ave., D and Sausage overhear their neighbors arguing. What characterizes these arguments between Haskett and Huffman is the back-and-forth bickering and insulting, similar to that of a married couple. After trying to reason with the neighbors, D and Sausage recorded the conversations of Haskett and Huffman. By the end of the men’s stay, they have about 14 hours of recorded audiotape.

It isn’t until two years afterwards that “Shut Up Little Man” makes its way into the pop-culture mainstream—by way of pre-digital sharing—and blows up.

Eddie had shared a tape with a friend, who in turn shared the tape with a friend, and so on, until the audio recording fell into the right hands. From there, the phrase “Shut Up Little Man”—a repeated phrase from the audio recordings—became a part of media forms such as comics, plays and television shows. “Shut Up Little Man” spawned a subculture.

Besides providing a comical story, the film also raises questions about privacy, art and entertainment. In today’s world, people can record their friends or family and post that media on YouTube and other social media platforms, giving all of the Internet world access. But YouTube has consent laws, which are meant to protect individuals from humiliation and a damaged reputation.

In “Shut Up Little Man!” Peter and Raymond are never asked for permission. Does this make it okay to turn their dialogue into multiple art forms?

The film also provides an understanding of mass media and consumer culture. How does something become popular? A video or a song needs mass appeal, and it needs the right type of platform to reach the masses. “Shut Up Little Man” infiltrated all forms of mass media, and the best parts of the documentary give examples of this.

“Shut Up Little Man!” is an interesting film, in part because of its storytelling and cinematography. Using interviews, reenactments, photos and other media, Haskett and Huffman are turned into mythical people, only made concrete and real due to the audio clips played throughout the movie. The audience never hears Haskett and Huffman’s side of the story, only their arguments. Yet people can relate to Haskett and Huffman’s story. They are two old men of opposing lifestyles living together. Everyone can relate to the difficulty of living with someone different. And that is the main appeal of the audiotapes and “Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure:” the universal story.

The documentary will open in Hartford at Real Art Ways beginning Sept. 23.

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