In 1987, two Midwestern punk rockers moved to San Francisco. Their new neighbors in a ramshackle apartment building were a pair of aging alcoholics who spent their days drinking and arguing, their rants branching into such wildly baroque duets that the punks started recording them. In something of a pre-Internet viral sensation, their cassette tapes circulated hand-to-hand and inspired a cult following.
In making "Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure," a documentary that tells the story of not just the tapes but their strange and increasingly sad afterlife, Australian filmmaker Matthew Bate faces the challenge not only of visualizing the audio artifacts but also of finding a way to position their makers and explain all that has transpired since the tapes were initially recorded.
The tapes are fun, for people who enjoy that kind of thing, but it is only once they become popular that the story gets truly interesting. With comics and a stage play and a number of competing film projects, suddenly the onetime punk rockers transform into a more genteel version of their subjects, bickering over life rights, copyrights and who really owns the story of the two drunks next door. In the midst of it all, one of the neighbors died, meaning folks who should have known better were scrambling to take advantage of a single broken-down old man (who also has subsequently passed away).