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Originally published Thursday, September 22, 2011 at 3:02 PM

Movie review

'Shut Up Little Man!' should spark loud debate

A review of the documentary, "Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure," which explores dubious ethics in the strange story of Eddie Lee Sausage and Mitch Deprey, who surreptitiously recorded the rants of drunken neighbors and started a viral phenomenon.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3 stars

'Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure,' with Eddie Lee Sausage, Mitch Deprey, Peter Haskett, Raymond Huffman. Written and directed by Matthew Bate. 90 minutes. Not rated; contains swearing. Northwest Film Forum; through Thursday. Sausage will appear at the Friday and Saturday screenings.

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Before YouTube, voyeuristic phenomena went viral the old-fashioned way: by word-of-mouth, niche radio and magazines, and underground pop culture.

A case in point is the 1990s mini-industry that developed around surreptitious audio recordings made by Eddie Lee Sausage and Mitchell D. (Mitch Deprey) of their drunken, quarrelsome neighbors in a San Francisco apartment building.

The unsuspecting subjects were Peter Haskett and Raymond Huffman, roommates who made a loud, scary, living hell out of their shared lives.

Shouting obscenity-laden curses at one another night after night — frequently punctuated by Haskett's cruel refrain, "Shut up, little man!" — the pair became a source of horror, wonder, ridicule and, ultimately, ambition and profit for Sausage, Deprey and others.

Australian filmmaker Matthew Bate's shrewdly ambitious documentary "Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure" casts a wide net of inquiry over this sometimes appalling story, which raises timely questions about the differences between creation and exploitation.

Essentially, the hours of recordings Sausage and Deprey made were distributed to a vast network of people who collect tapes of prank phone calls, embarrassing celebrity moments and so on.

From there, comic-book artists, playwrights, musicians and others, working in a gray area where rights weren't defined or acquired, developed their own visions of the world of Haskett and Huffman.

Inevitably, Hollywood called, and a race between competing producers ensued, with back-stabbing involved. Meanwhile, Haskett and Huffman, largely unaware they've perversely become icons in a cultural bubble, live out their remaining years in a dreary haze.

Bate works closely with Sausage and Deprey while still asking, albeit subtly, perceptive questions about the murky ethics involved in gaining fame and money (even today) from those original recordings.

But he also asks if any of us who enjoy today's online videos of humiliating moments, or of provocateurs trying to get a rise out of strangers, isn't on morally dubious ground.

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@gmail.com

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