TRUE/FALSE FILM FESTIVAL 2011
By Don Simpson | April 10, 2011
Director: Matthew Bate
A series of tapes featuring two bickering San Francisco men with a penchant for profanity so flamboyantly profane that even Jack Rebney (Winnebago Man) might blush at the sound of it were recorded in the late 1980s by two young punks, Mitch Deprey and Eddie Lee Sausage. The unaware neighbors of the audio misadventures, Peter Haskett and Ray Huffman, could be heard verbatim through the paper-thin walls of Deprey and Sausage’s crappy apartment and the surreptitious recordings began as a means of documenting the obscene aural hell that kept Deprey and Sausage awake all through the night, but quickly evolved into a means of bitter revenge. Deprey and Sausage began to invite friends over to their apartment for Haskett and Huffman listening parties. They then began to pass around dubs of their lo-fi tape recordings to friends and soon the analog recordings went viral, developing into an underground sensation. This was before the Jerky Boys, and certainly before the Internet and YouTube; the audio cassettes were dubbed and distributed the old fashioned way, from one friend to another, by hand and occasionally by mail.
Soon, Haskett and Huffman were cult celebrities — yet the eternally drunk buffoons had no idea of their freshly minted indie cred. Deprey and Sausage promptly copyrighted the material and began selling their recordings of Haskett and Huffman by mail order. It was not long before a theatrical play based on Haskett and Huffman was produced, comics (by authors such as Daniel Clowes) featuring Haskett and Huffman’s dialogue began popping up, several related film projects were in the works, and DEVO’s side project the Wipeouters recorded “Shut Up, Little Man” (featuring samples of Haskett and Huffman).
But, who really owned the material? Could Deprey and Sausage legitimately profit from their clandestine audio verité recordings of Haskett and Huffman? Were the two feisty curmudgeons actually gay lovers? (Haskett was gay; Huffman, purportedly, was not.) If not, why did they live together if they hated each other so damn much?
Haskett and Huffman were like the cracked-out skid row version of The Odd Couple; every night, fueled by booze, they verbally berated each other (and by the sound of it, things would occasionally get physically violent as well) non-stop until sunrise; then, upon sobering up during the daylight hours, they peacefully coexisted as roommates. Despite the ethically questionable actions of Deprey and Sausage, the documentation of Haskett and Huffman’s seems to be more than just an immature voyeuristic fascination. The audio recordings serve not only as ethnographic proof that such ugliness actually exists in our society but also as linguistic proof of never before recorded uses of profanity.
Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure joins up with Deprey and Sausage some twenty years later. Besides recreating the past (via archival photographs, animation and reenactments) and discussing the ethics and copyright issues that still haunt the recordings, Shut Up Little Man! follows the fully matured duo as the estranged friends reunite in San Francisco. We also meet several cult personalities and fan-boys who discuss their recollections of the Shut Up Little Man! craze. Matthew Bate’s documentary covers a lot of pertinent topics: looking back at viral marketing in the analog age (from the digital age), ownership and copyright of audio verité recordings (the same goes for YouTube videos that are filmed without consent of the subject), the fascination that our society has with the profane outbursts of anger by others, and the one major downside of urban living (noisy neighbors).
Shut Up Little Man! is scheduled to be released on DVD and VOD by New Video on January 24, 2012. Also be sure to check out our interview with Shut Up Little Man! director Matthew Bate.