Noise pollution is an often overlooked environmental issue, though if you've ever had really noisy neighbours it's probably been a very major issue for you! The action in the documentary Shut Up Little Man starts in 1987 when Eddie Lee and Mitch D move into a low-rent apartment in San Francisco and find that their neighbours, Ray and Peter (joined sometimes by Tony), argue loudly all night every night. Eddie and Mitch start recording the arguments by hanging a microphone in front of their neighbour's appartment. They do this firstly as evidence but continue because they find the arguments compelling. They give copies of the tapes to friends and soon the noisy neighbours have a cult following across the USA. Pretty soon there are comic books, songs, plays and ideas for films based on the contents of the recordings (and remember this is all in the days pre-internet!).
The film is made up of interviews with Eddie and Mitch and some of the people who adapted the contents of the recordings for their own purposes.
One obvious issue brought up in the film is respect for your neighbours. Ray and Peter are disrespectful for arguing loudly all night regardless of whether they disturb others (when Ray discovers that the arguments are being recorded, he shouts abuse into the microphone and then continues as though nothing had happened!). Eddie and Mitch are equally disrespectful by recording their neighbours without consent, beyond any legal requirement for evidence.
Another major issue is around copyright. Eddie and Mitch first circulate the tapes with a note allowing users to do what they want with the material. Later they claim copyright on it, which isn't theirs to claim as they had covertly recorded other people. The explosion of creative responses to the recordings is at once inspiring (because of the enthusiasm and creativity) and depressing (because of the total disregard for the people who feature in the recordings). In this context the film discusses the nature of art - whether the original recordings are art or if it only becomes art when something new is done with the 'material'.
At the end, we see interviews with Peter (before he died) and Tony, both of whom are living in poverty, unaware of the underground stardom they have, they both seem empty, confused men, who have been taken advantage of in ways that they are never going to be fully aware of.
It's very entertaining (if you don't mind a lot of bad language!) but also very thought provoking and essentially quite sad.
I was at the press showing of this film. Public Screenings of Shut Up Little Man will be at:
2215, 17 June. 1730, 18 June. Both showings are in Filmhouse 2.
You can book on the Edinburgh International Film Festival website here.