I Thought I Told You to Shut Up!! documents the Hollywood rise and fall story that threatens any naïve and/or jaded outsider. In 1977, recent college graduate David Boswell moved to Vancouver and attempted to find work as a cartoonist. It was then that he created Reid Fleming, a cartoon character whose catchphrase was (and remains) “I thought I told you to shut up!” Many newspaper readers found the character endearing, and this led – a few years later, relatively quickly in show business – to a script deal and celebrity parties. Nearly as quickly Hollywood spat Boswell out and he’s been plugging away ever since, just as he did when he first became inspired to create Fleming; but there’s one difference, and that is he now gets hounded by fans who wish to know why their favourite Canadian comic book character never got his movie debut.
For a documentary that’s 12 minutes, we learn a lot about Boswell in I Thought I Told You to Shut Up!! but possibly even more about Reid Fleming. Major figures in both film and Canadian culture weigh in. Jonathan Demme (director of Silence of the Lambs, among other films) narrates, and The Simpsons creator Matt Groening admits without some of Reid Fleming’s unique traits Homer Simpson would not be the character he is today. David Thomas, who played Doug McKenzie on Bob & Doug, a show that exaggerated many of Canada’s most embarrassing personality stereotypes, was at the time a very vocal supporter of the show.
So why did it never go? It started off well. The celebrities featured in this documentary were a lot more famous then, and so they were able to open a few doors. As momentum grew, and Boswell wrote finished and previewed a good script, actors such as Robin Williams, Jack Nicholson, Bob Hoskins, and Jon Lovitz (to name a few) expressed their interest in playing the character. Just when a Reid Fleming feature film seemed inevitable, the script arrived at Warner Bros. According to the interviewees, it rose happily all the way to the top of the chain, to the head of the studio, and there it died, with no change of revival.
Some of the interviewees speculate that a movie could still happen, and they throw actors names around – John C. Reilly, for example, who would be a great choice as he bears a striking resemblance to the character – but nobody seems willing to take the initiative, and so Shut Up!! may well be the closest you get to seeing Reid Fleming in animated action.
If you’re a fan of the character, I assume this will be a treasure. The doc’s flourishes in animation and touches of humour make the subject matter, its character, and the interviewees’ goodwill contagious – even to someone born sixteen years after the character’s conception. It’s worth a watch.
Also, it’s free on Vimeo.