Often the real power of a good documentary is to fascinate and have a viewer hooked even if they aren’t already interested in or don’t have existing knowledge of the subject matter at hand. That’s exactly what happened to me with the bizarrely titled Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure, a strangely enjoyable documentary about two friends and their unforeseeable success.
The documentary follows two friends, Mitch and Eddie, who moved into a rundown San Fransisco apartment. They soon start to notice the neighbours having loud, foul-mouthed and often hilarious arguments. So what else to do but record what they can hear through their paper-thin walls? Unbeknownst the duo they had just started what was to become the world’s first “viral” pop-culture sensation as the recorded tapes started to circulate.
What’s perhaps most fascinating about Shut Up Little Man! (the title is taken from a repeated line said by one of the neighbours) is to see how this simple set of events spiralled into a worldwide phenomenon. This was in the days before the internet and specifically YouTube when viral videos and audio can and do spread instantly. It’s amazing to see the recordings spread like wildfire between obsessive tape collectors and the like.
Chances are you won’t be familiar with this “Audio Vérité” (basically real sounds from everyday life) phenomenon, despite its cult popularity over the last 20-plus years. And as the film delves deeper into the bizarre success it’s almost hard to believe it’s a true story. Writer/director Matthew Bate (impressing with his first full-length documentary) tells this weird story with a lot of visual snap, crackle and pop – bright colours, bold fonts and creative montages (etc.) to accompany the audio.
Despite the primary objective of the documentary being to inform you in an entertaining, frequently silly, way, the film also raises some legitimate questions about voyeurism and the right to privacy. Is what Mitch and Eddie did exploitation, considering the success the two went on to have? Or simply a knee-jerk reaction to the noisy neighbours innocently leading to something much bigger? This undoubtedly fun and inventive documentary asks those questions which are all the more relevant today, taking what is, at its core, a very limited appeal subject matter and making it accessible and enjoyable for a wider audience.