Record Thy Neighbor

On the tapes that made them unwitting (and unknowing) celebrities, the “Cocksucker!” and “Shut up, little man!” spat by audio-vérité cassette-swap sensations Raymond and Peter played as the bleakest of comedies. The tapes themselves provide the most compelling material in Matthew Bate’s new documentary -- Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure -- on Raymond, Peter, and the two neighbors who made the recordings in 1987, unleashed them into the world as a public-domain art project, and then claimed copyright as soon as Hollywood looked interested. Bate’s film, while problematic, offers an arresting summation of the state of Raymond and Peter studies — although the Raymond and Peter it depicts might not be as fascinating as the ones listeners have long imagined. Bate resorts to actors playing Raymond and Peter, which robs viewers of the chance to dream up these guys ourselves, and as counterpoint to their spirited harangues, he cuts to stock footage of wholesome ’50s Americans beaming at their TVs and radios. But when Bate hits, he hits. In remarkable footage from 1995, George Cothran, then an SF Weekly reporter, explains to Peter what nobody else had ever bothered to: that tapes of him shouting had made him something of a star. At moments like this, Shut Up Little Man achieves the weight and power of the original recordings, which suggest that cruel bickering might be a ritual through which we relieve life’s pain.
Aug. 26-Sept. 7, 2011

 
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