Mister Organ has its European première at Glasgow Film Festival 2023
Mister Organ opens in 2021 with journalist David Farrier driving to an abandoned psychiatric hospital in Kingseat, Auckland, New Zealand – “which is funny,” he comments, “because I do feel like I’m losing my mind.” What has led Farrier to this place and to this mental state started five years earlier for him (but decades before that for many others), when he began writing what appeared to be “a very simple, quirky story” about an antiques shop in Ponsonby, Auckland running a scam: a clamper would disable any vehicle that stopped in the shop’s private parking spaces after business hours, and then harass the owner into handing over an exorbitant sum of cash to have the vehicle released. After receiving a lawyer’s letter ordering him to cease and desist his investigations, Farrier discovers that the name authorising the letter belongs in fact to no lawyer, but to the clamper – a man who has also been in the newspapers for falsely claiming royal lineage. So in Michael Organ, Farrier smells a story.
In fact this story will cause Farrier a lot of stress and mental perturbation over the next five years. Farrier first meets – and faces – Organ in court, where the documentarian is successfully fined over a trumped-up (and absurd) charge of theft; but before this in-person encounter, Farrier has heard plenty of stories from Organ’s former housemates and associates, all of whom seem more than relieved to be rid of Organ. Once Organ realises that Farrier is making a film about him, the two men start spending a lot of time together, even as Organ seems simultaneously to crave – and to evade – the attention.
It is not that Organ is unforthcoming on camera – on the contrary, he is garrulous and dominant (“there’s nothing more irksome than if someone is controlling the narrative when you’re the person who should be doing it,” he comments in their first filmed session, seemingly unaware that he is doing precisely what he condemns). Yet amid his endless streams of verbiage, his hints at conspiratorial knowledge and his professions of victimhood, Organ gives very little away, while bamboozling his audience with a barrage of contradictions and curveballs. Soon Organ has wormed his way into Farrier’s head, as he has done with so many others before, leaving the filmmaker discomfited and confused.
The elusive, empty subject of Mister Organ attaches himself to marks like a leech, and charms, wheedles, menaces, manipulates and gaslights his way towards malevolent ends that are hard to discern let alone comprehend because they make so little sense – possibly even to Organ himself. Those whose path Organ crosses he leaves destabilised and damaged, as their grip on reality and sanity is steadily loosened. A pathological liar and abusive narcissist who bullies others into accepting his deeply skewed alternative truths, and who projects his own malice and misdemeanours onto everyone else, Organ is very much a protagonist for the Trumpian age – and it is one of those flukes of fate that Farrier’s involvement with Organ coincided with the period of the Trump Presidency.
As with Farrier’s previous documentary Tickled (2016), Mister Organ starts as a story that is appealingly wild and crazy – “exactly my kind of weird mess,” as Farrier himself says of it, early on – and then becomes something much darker. For this is a portrait of a particularly tenacious toxicity, as dedicated to denying itself as to draining others.
strap: David Farrier’s documentary feature is a study in sociopathy, as the filmmaker and his gaslighting subject play menacing mind games
© Anton Bitel