A new doc tells the story of two twentysomethings who live next door to a pair of screaming drunks and decide to tape them

Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure

New Video Group DVD

Nowadays, cult celebrities are easy to come by, and they breeze across our collective awareness at maximum velocity. Folks like the Star Wars Kid and Chris Crocker enjoy/loathe/run from their 15 seconds of fame, while all of us embrace them until the spotlight lands on the next internet superstar. But before, when the world moved more slowly, cult icons grew from seedlings, nurtured into maturity over the years by adoring weirdos. Shut Up Little Man! explores one such case, documenting the story of two twentysomethings who take up residence next door to a pair of screaming drunks named Peter and Ray. Each night, the neighbors battle one another, hurling epithets and taunts (Peter is openly gay, Ray a homophobe), and through the paper-thin walls of the apartment complex, our protagonists hear everything.

Not long after they move in, the punk duo decides to record their neighbors’ altercations, which range from hilarious to downright sad. As it’s 1987, they record everything on cassette, and the tapes are dubbed and disseminated across the country, unbeknownst to the guys who recorded them in the first place. A legion of fanboys fall head over heels for Peter and Ray, spewing comics and plays and puppet shows about the two. Not long after, the pair who recorded the tapes step up, slapping a copyright on their work, which begs the question: Can you trademark something someone else said? Especially if it was obtained illegally?

The strongest aspect of director Matthew Bate’s film is its ability to raise questions that leave you discussing it long after; the story itself is intriguing, though it does feel stretched to feature length. If we’re going to compare accidental cult icon docs, Winnebago Man does a far better job of showing the ramifications of thrusting fame on a surly, unwitting subject. Of course, Shut Up Little Man! suffers the misfortune of centering on absentee stars (both Peter and Ray died several years ago), so all the filmmakers have left to document are a pack of drooling, obsessed fans. Fortunately, they’ve got plenty of good stuff to hold your interest, but without our howling heroes, those 90 minutes drag on just a little too long.

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