Monday, September 12, 2011

Shut Up Little Man: The Curse of Peter & Raymond

They were the most unlikely underground-cultural superstars ever, yet for the oh- so-ironic, Peter Haskett and Raymond Huffman became icons for the recordings of their booze-fueled arguments, recorded surreptitiously by their scenester neighbors. Funny and sad in roughly equal measure, the oblivious roommates and the cult following they inspired are documented in Matthew Bate’s Shut Up Little Man (trailer here), which opens this Friday at the IFC Center.

The diminutive Huffman was a raging blue collar homophobe. The snippy Haskett was bigger and more . . . flamboyant. They both liked to drink—gallons. At first they scared the willies out of their new neighbors, Eddie Lee Sausage and Mitchell D., who still use their hipster handles throughout the documentary. Alarmed at first, the young men started recording their misanthropic neighbors to serves as evidence should their chaos escalate. However, the lunacy of their whacked-out benders fascinated them. Once they began sharing their tapes with friends, they spread exponentially.

Named after Haskett’s catch-phrase, “Shut Up Little Man” started out as shareware, but as it caught on, the tapers began asserting their copyright protections. Suddenly Sausage and D[eprey] were making money off their neighbors, when the legality of the recordings themselves was something of a gray area. As others sought to cash-in on Haskett and Huffman’s bickering, the suddenly ambitious roommates had several falling outs with former friends. Yet, the big issues Shut Up sets out to investigate are whatever happened to Peter and Raymond and just what were they to each other anyway?

To Bate’s credit, he addresses just about every question viewers will have about both sets of roommates, while maintaining some sense of the mystery surrounding Haskett and Huffman. Though “Sausage and D,” now family men approaching middle age (if not already there), cooperate throughout the film, they do not always appear especially sympathetic. “Sausage” in particular, comes across rather mercenary in his continuing efforts to capitalize on the “Shut Up” cult following. However, the fact that their friendship appears genuine and enduring helps humanize both.

Briskly paced, Shut Up is often very funny, in large measure due to the original recordings themselves. Though problematic on several levels, they captured Haskett and Huffman in all their inebriated glory. Indeed, there is no denying the mismatched roommates were mad as hatters, who could turn an obscenity-laden phrase with the best of them.

Bate also incorporates several droll animated sequences as well as some trenchant observations of the phenomenon of cult phenomena. Cleverly executed but ultimately forgiving of human foibles, regardless of how freaky they might appear to outsiders, Shut Up is a very entertaining documentary. Recommended with a weird affection, despite the nagging guilt it engenders for indulging voyeuristic impulses, it opens this Friday (9/16) in New York at the IFC Center.