If you add up the number of “stars” in Matthew Bate’s first feature they amount to, perhaps, 4.5 humans. By that I don’t mean one of them is half a man. Rather, all five seem to be a tad lacking—and that’s being generous. The documentary concerns two Midwestern college grads (Eddie Guerriero and Mitch Deprey) who relocate to San Francisco in 1987. They soon discover that Peter and Raymond, the two older men living in the apartment next door, are extremely loud and very angry—all the time. They are also raging alcoholics. Their inexplicable infuriation is exacerbated by the fact that Peter seems to be a flaming queen, and Ray a hateful homophobe. Tony, a “friend,” is often caught in the verbal crossfire.
Eddie and Mitch decide to make a “field recording.” Today there are seven CDs worth of material in the Shut Up Little Man audio series. The beloved-by-radio-DJ phenomenon spread worldwide virally—thanks to that pre-Internet device known as the cassette tape. It has spawned comic books, a play, and multiple failed film adaptations (excluding the 2002 non-classic, Shut Yer Dirty Little Mouth). Musicians with samplers (notably Devo) are addicted to the stuff.
In Bate’s film, shot in the present, the audience sees Eddie and Mitch retell the story while they attempt to justify their audio-voyeurism. The director also tags along on their quest to locate Tony, the (barely) surviving subject. It’s a fascinating, occasionally nauseating tale of wasted human life, energy, and brain cells.