I admit it. When I was a kid, I made prank phone calls. I realize the activity is technically illegal and I would never do it today, but have often mused that those born after 1980 or so won’t ever have experienced this rite of passage. Where childish shenanigans are concerned, it is relatively innocuous. At its worst, it is a mild annoyance only to those being called. Alas, it went out of style with the invention of caller ID.
Oftentimes, my friends (or siblings) and I would find someone who would react with disproportionate anger. They would scream and curse at us, which would crack us up for hours afterward. Yes, as an adult, I often wince at this highly immature behavior. As a ten year old preacher’s kid who was accustomed mostly to very straight-laced polite types, however, I considered it the height of hilarity to hear a grown up cussing. [Mom/Dad: I guess what I’m saying here is that—had you thrown around some four letter words once in a while, my siblings and I would not have been forced to prank call people!]
I challenge anyone to watch Shut Up Little Man without experiencing that same childish thrill. The film documents recordings made by “Eddie Lee Sausage” and “Mitchell D” of their loud and quarrelsome next door neighbors (Peter Haskett and Raymond Huffman) in a run-down San Francisco apartment back in 1987. When they first hear the drunken pair fighting and cursing loudly through the walls, their request that the neighbors keep it down is met with violent threats from Huffman. They at first begin recording the loud and oddly comical fights as a means of documentation for authorities, but then realize that the fights are comedy gold.
The recordings, originally made on cassette tapes, were copied and passed through a network of people in the early 90’s. They became an underground phenomenon in the days when “viral” still meant a type of infection. They spawned plays, comic books, and were even referenced in a Devo concept album.
Director Matthew Bate does a phenomenal job drawing the viewer into the story as he revisits Eddie and Mitchell (as well as various other parties involved) more than twenty years later. Rather than simply laughing at the screeching, cursing, and insulting, it is impossible not to begin actually caring about who Haskett and Huffman were, what their relationship was like, and what happened to them. The documentary then does a more than adequate job of answering these questions.
In today’s overly litigious world, it would not be advisable for anyone to record their neighbors fighting and then post it to the internet. It would also not be advisable to prank call anyone and record the conversation (as Eddie and Mitchell also do with their neighbors) without a party’s prior consent. The internet and reality TV have also given rise to countless faked/staged situations for the sole purpose of driving website traffic and/or ratings.
This documentary, however, is the real deal. The screaming fights are real. The characters are flawed. The drama is better than anything scripted. And it can all be enjoyed without the threat of a lawsuit or fear of bodily harm.