In 1987 two dudes from the Midwest, Eddie Lee Sausage and Mitchell D, landed in San Francisco and rented a cheap apartment. They soon learned that they shared a paper-thin wall with Peter (Haskett), a gay man, and Raymond (Huffman), a homophobe, who drank and verbally abused each other—all night, every night. Within the confines of civil behavior, Eddie and Mitchell did everything to quiet these guys, only to be met with obscenities and threats.
So, for a year and a half, Eddie and Mitchell recorded the fights of the roommates, and played them back through their noisy neighbors’ front door. It didn’t solve anything, but the recordings somehow became part of an underground culture that still inspires artists today. How this happened—as well as what became of the protagonists—is the lively subject of this film about the accident of art, the prevalence of media, and a deep relationship based on baleful expression. [Synopsis courtesy of ND/NF]
[indieWIRE invited directors with films in the 40th edition of New Directors/New Films to submit responses in their own words about their films. To prompt the discussion, indieWIRE asked the filmmakers about what inspired their films, the challenges they faced and other general questions. They were also free to add additional comments related to their projects.]
“Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure”
Writer/Director: Matthew Bate
Producer: Sophie Hyde
Executive Producers: Stephen Cleary, Julie Ryan
Co-Producers: Julie Byrne, Bryan Mason
Cinematographer: Bryan Mason
Editor: Bryan Mason
Music by: Jonny Elk Walsh
Production Designer: Tony Cronin
Cast: Peter Haskett, Raymond Huffman, Eddie Lee Sausage, Mitch Deprey, Ivan Brunetti, Daniel Clowes, Mike Mitchell, Henry Rosenthal
Responses courtesy of “Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure” director Matthew Bate.
It’s a time worn trail, but my filmmaking came from watching far too much TV and schlocky VHS movies while growing up in the late 70’s and 80’s. I remember seeing a few films later on that really influenced me, in particular Dennis Potter’s TV series “The Singing Detective,” Luis Buñuel’s “Los Olvidados” and Jim Jarmush’s “Down By Law.” Then I saw Rolf De Heer’s “Bad Boy Bubby,” which was made in Adelaide where I live, and it had people and places I knew in it. It made me realize that I could actually make films myself. I enrolled in University to study film and went armed with a good knowledge of the movies and a desperate need to make a film. When I graduated, I set up a production company with friends, made short drama films, documentaries and ran a commercial arm so we could make a living being filmmakers. Since then I’ve never done anything other than make films.
The basis for the documentary…
I used to hang around a friend’s record store and an older guy called Ron, who was one of those obscure music-knowledge types, told me about this bizarre recording of two old men fighting called “Shut Up Little Man.” I went home and listened to it and it was so shocking and so compelling that I was immediately hooked. I read about how artists like Dan Clowes and Devo had used it as inspiration for artwork and music. There was also a back-story about audio-verité (real life recordings made illicitly) and how tape traders all over the world swapped this stuff via postal mail. I loved the idea of this pre-internet viral culture, of reality based entertainment before the onslaught of that kind of television and long before Youtube. And of course at the heart of the story are Eddie and Mitch, the two young punks who moved from the mid-west to San Francisco looking for adventure, and ended up living next door to these two older drunken maniacs. The perfect storm scenario of these two guys accidentally creating this pop-culture phenomenon that thrust them into this morally nebulous journey, was a story with the ingredients that I felt would make a great documentary.
Using collage in documentary…
I make collaged documentaries that incorporate animation, motion graphics, archival film, recreations and collected data of any kind. This is simply a pragmatic way of telling stories that are not “filmmable” in a traditional documentary sense. I love taking found images or archival material and re-shaping it to tell a different story. Each piece of motion graphics or animation is like a little artwork, a chance to tell part of a story or illustrate an idea.
“Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure” is my first feature film, and the material offered itself perfectly to this style of filmmaking but pushed beyond where I had been before. We built elaborate sets, spent months animating the collected data, finding archival films, traveling across the U.S. filming interviews and some observational documentary footage. I think the final films ends up being an interesting mash of styles that plays with the themes, celebrating a pop-culture aesthetic while also questioning it.
Breathing life into the subject matter…
There were a number of challenges making the film, as there are in every film. Being Australian telling an American story offers up its own space and time issues and scheduling nightmares. Also, telling a story in which much of it had already happened meant we had to think very creatively about how to do this. On top of this, we are telling a film about recorded audio, so how do you bring this to life? It was a massive but ultimately engaging challenge to confront these obstacles and make them work for a low budget film.
An unexpected “Shut Up Little Man” fan…
We traveled to Portland to interview legendary rock critic Richard Meltzner (who unfortunately ended up on the cutting room floor). A connection told us he was a massive “Shut Up Little Man” fan. Richard’s house was amazing, filled with a huge collection of first-edition Beat Generation books and images of his life hanging around rock stars. I’m a dog lover and Richard has an Australian sheepdog. I went to pet this fellow Aussie when the thing attacked me, then lunged and bit Bryan, our DP. Ignoring our bleeding, Richard cranked up his stereo and explained that his “thing” with the “Shut Up Little Man” tapes was to kick back with a beer on his recliner while listening to Pete and Ray fighting. He said that having it on in his house was like having company over. It kept him from being lonely. There’s just something so hilarious about a guy who had lived this rock and roll life, had hung out with Jim Morrison, but now spent his later years warding off loneliness listening to Peter and Raymond.
Any upcoming projects?
I am developing a feature doc about Elmer Batters, the great foot fetish photographer. Elmer’s images are amazing and his life and work is a story I’ve wanted to tell for many years. It spans the history of pornography, fetishism in art and cinema (some of my favorite filmmakers like Tarantino and Bunuel are “foot-men”) and deals with my favorite theme of obsession.