The duo behind Shut Up, Little Man! on the subjectivity of documentaries and the death threat that was cut from the film
When Eddie Guerriero and Mitch Deprey began taping their neighbors' drunken fights in 1987, they had no idea the tapes would become a cult phenomenon. But they did. Matthew Bate's documentary Shut Up, Little Man! An Audio Misadventure (opening today at the Denver FilmCenter/Colfax) chronicles the spread of the phenomenon, and in turn brings up questions of the morality of recording your neighbors without their knowledge. We spoke with Guerriero and Deprey about this accused exploitation, the subjectivity of documentaries and the death threat that was cut out of the film.
Mitch Deprey Eddie Guerriero (left) and Mitch Deprey (right) taped their drunken neighbors and unwittingly created a cult phenomenon.
Westword: The film brings up the morality of voyeurism and taping people without their consent. Did you ever think that you were exploiting your neighbors?
Mitch Deprey: No, not at all. It's a real misconception I think in the film. When you think of our position, it's easy to judge when you're watching a film for ninety minutes. We were exposed to this for twenty months, relentlessly. They were ruthless, they were profane, they were completely the most insensitive, brutal people you can imagine. Absolutely no regard for anyone in the building. So it was a coping mechanism, it really was, to be able to just make something intolerable more tolerable.
Eddie Guerriero: The other thing is, if you get down into the definition of exploitation, it's someone basically making a deliberate intention to take advantage of somebody else. If you look at what happened with Shut Up, Little Man!, it's basically two young guys making these recordings as a private in-joke with themselves and a very small group of people, and then finding out three years later that everybody across the planet was listening to the recordings. Where does the morality lay when something unfolds and not only did you not intend it, you didn't even know about it? And once you did find out about it, you traveled across the country to try to find the original guys and have a conversation about it? So I've never felt guilt or remorse or anything. Other people clearly, and I think the film shows that, exploited them. I mean, making out with them and getting them to sign something for $10. We didn't do that. Someone else did that.
What was your reaction to the film?
MD: I love about 90 percent of the film. It was a little unsettling, because we were supposed to have more executive decision-making, oversight in the whole process, so ultimately what happened was, these folks scrambled to get this thing in the can in order to get it to Sundance, so ultimately, we were pretty much eliminated from the whole creative process for the final product. I absolutely love about the first 35 minutes of it. It's very enthralling; it tells the story. It's funny, it's gut-wrenching, people are laughing hysterically in the theater. And to me, that captures a lot of the essence of the whole phenomenon. The middle where it sags a lot talks about a lot of the legal wrangling, fighting over the material and who owns it. I don't know if the film is worthy of thirty minutes of that. Maybe fifteen. All in all, I really appreciate the film. It's very visually appealing. There are a few elements that are unsettling.