February 22-28, 2006

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Shut Yer Dirty Little Mouth!

Fighting Words

'Shut Yer Dirty Little Mouth!' chronicles the alcohol-fueled battles of two SFers

By Richard von Busack

Conflict! Love! Hatred! Alcohol! Pathos! San Francisco, 1988: In the roach-ridden Lower Haight district, at a Pepto Bismal-pink dingbat apartment house on 237 Steiner, two grievously alcoholic middle-aged men fight their nights away.

Their unquenchable rage is fueled by mutual madness and copious amounts of vodka from O'Looney's Liquors. (Meanwhile, oblivious to the human drama only a block away from his tenement at 510 Haight, regular O'Looney's patron Richard von Busack guzzles his $3.99 a six-pack Lone Stars and dreams his hopeless dreams of success in the high-stakes world of weekly journalism.)

Meet Raymond (Gill Gayle), a.k.a. "Little Man," and his lover/flatmate/drinking buddy Pete (Tim Burton regular Glenn Shadix). The two squabblers fought with such gusto that the police were frequently called in; worried about potential homicide, their furious yet amazed neighbors tape-recorded the fights. These tapes became an international underground sensation.

Working from the stage play Shut Up! Little Man, based on the tapes, Robert Taicher directs Shut Yer Dirty Little Mouth!, the film story of two men caught by a dark gravity that the sane will never understand. Unless the sane person's name is Samuel Beckett.

It's a pity that a couple of L.A.-based exteriors turn up in this quintessentially San Franciscan story. Still, Shut Yer Dirty Little Mouth is a tribute to its magic source material.

Taicher uses blackouts to re-create the "greatest hits" effect of the Ray 'n' Pete (and sometimes their dim friend Tony) knockdown drag-outs. The profanity is plentiful, but the actors humanize it all.

Gill Gayle's furtive, ugly chuckle and Mr. Magoo squint makes one feel a little protective, especially when he faces down the Jackie Gleasonish fury of the hulking Shaddix, crowned with a piss-yellow wig.

Maybe listening in on these two puts you a few steps above those vicious rich kids who pay winos to fight each other. But Ray and Pete obviously didn't care who heard their quarrels, and Shut Yer Dirty Little Mouth! demonstrates how art can preserve memories of even the most misspent lives.

Though so much has changed, O'Looney's still stands. And knowing the Haight, more than a few of the people who laughed at these hideo-comic arguments will be joining Pete and Ray in the Alcohol of Fame before too long.

As for Ray, his immortal words have often come to me over the years. when watching Ron Howard epics, or teen slasher films, or looking at a hasty painting, or hearing a moaning maudlin pop song, or reading a Wall Street Journal editorial: "I love people. I love the world. I love life. But I sure as fuck cain't love a piece of shit."

Movie Times Shut Yer Dirty Little Mouth! opens Feb. 24 in San Francisco at the Roxie Theater.

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