Two new films at Ogden’s Art House Cinema 502 deal with the way we look at people who live in the same building, but in different worlds.
The documentary Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure gives sociological weight to a novelty-recording footnote. In 1987, 20-something Wisconsin transplants Eddie and Mitch moved into a seedy San Francisco apartment building, and began recording the violent, drunken arguments of their next-door neighbors, Ray and Peter. Those pre-Internet-era recordings became underground sensations—and Australian filmmaker Matthew Bate explores the implications of that celebrity. The film takes off on a few different tangents, all of them interesting: the recordings’ improbable journey to pop-culture ubiquity; the fight, as they became a potentially lucrative property, over who actually “owns” the recordings; the way the “Shut Up Little Man!” tapes presaged the YouTube era of turning meltdowns (like Christian Bale’s) into entertainment. It’s actually most effective, though, in its surprisingly affecting look at the individuals whose sad lives and domestic turmoil became a punch line that others cashed in on. Maybe it took someone who wasn’t an American to point out our roadside casualties in the Age of Irony.
Philippe Le Guay’s The Women on the 6th Floor has a bit more frivolous fun with clashes of social classes—and that frivolity is part of what limits its effectiveness. The setting is 1962 Paris, where Spanish immigrants are flocking in droves to become domestic servants. In one high-rise building, wealthy stockbroker Jean-Louis Joubert (Fabrice Luchini) and his wife (Sandrine Kiberlain) live largely oblivious to the collection of maids living above them on the cold-water/shared-toilet sixth floor—until Jean-Louis becomes fascinated with their own new servant, Maria (Natalia Verbeke). What follows is a somewhat rote tale of an emotionally stunted protagonist coming to life as a result of his encounters with poor but joie-de-vivre-filled folks. And while Le Guay seems to be trying to make his characters more than stock types, he can’t quite find a tone that makes it all feel like instantly disposable comedy of manners.
Also opening: the education-themed documentary Road to Nowhere.