The true crime-style documentary character study “Mister Organ” has been gestating for about five years now. In that time, Michael Organ, an elusive and apparently unhinged con man, insinuated himself into the orbit of David Farrier, a New Zealand–based journalist turned filmmaker.
In “Mister Organ,” Farrier tries to understand Michael Organ, a garrulous chiseler who ran an illegal tire-clamping scam, and who also got caught trying to steal a yacht.
Farrier (“Tickled”) seems to know that there’s a rich story to be told about Organ, who harasses, equivocates and wears down anybody that he feels like messing with. But the run-and-gun style of hand-held photography that Farrier often uses to shoot Organ and various people who’ve met him suggests a deeper mystery that Farrier never meaningfully broaches: Why would you make a movie about an obviously unstable and potentially dangerous creep like Michael Organ?
Farrier’s interviews — shot discreetly and with appropriately gloomy and/or natural lighting by cinematographer Dominic Fryer — often suggest that Farrier’s either in danger or has prepared for a confrontation with Organ. Farrier assumes that Organ or his relatives will be hostile, and his diligent reporting puts “Mister Organ” leagues ahead of most “Tiger King”–style small-time-crook documentaries. Farrier also shows us a lot of footage of him talking to people on speakerphone, which suggests that he simply doesn’t have the footage that he needs to nail Organ.
As an unsettling person of interest, Organ’s story peaks early on in Farrier’s documentary. In 2016, Farrier wrote about a tire-clamping scam that Organ ran out of an Auckland parking lot: Organ put a clamp on unsuspecting motorists’ cars and made them pay him up to NZ$760 dollars to remove the clamp. The parking lot’s owner, antique dealer Jillian Bashford, didn’t mind, partly because she and Organ get along quite well. Farrier claims to be concerned about Organ’s influence on Bashford, but while Farrier does try to interview her and some of her family members, Bashford’s only one small part of Farrier’s narrative.
After Farrier’s 2016 article, Organ tried to intimidate the journalist. He presents Farrier with the key to his home’s front door and claims that he got a copy from somebody close to Farrier. Organ also takes Farrier to court and makes him pay almost NZ$3,000 for having taken a pair of unused signs from Bashford Antiques & Interiors. Farrier believes that Organ stole these otherwise valueless signs from Farrier’s property, which left him with no valid counterarguments in court.
Apparently, Organ, who talks a lot on camera without ever really saying much, mopped the floor with Farrier in court. Organ’s Svengali-like powers of persuasion — and his attendant knack for embedding himself into people’s lives — soon become the real subject of Farrier’s documentary.
Farrier’s presentation of Organ as a human question mark stands to reason, though he ultimately repeats some footage later on to underscore some obvious talking points: Organ likes to mess with people, enjoys being the center of attention and also believes whatever story he needs to in order to protect his frail ego. OK, so why chase after him for five years?
Farrier’s footage covers a lot of ground in just 96 minutes, but when he tries to explain his fascination with Organ, Farrier sounds weirdly like Donald Pleasence’s haunted and slightly unhinged Dr. Loomis to Organ’s impenetrable Michael Myers. He repeatedly tries to get Organ and Bashford to reveal something about Organ’s personality but doesn’t get very far. “I don’t know why he winds me up so much,” Farrier confesses to his camera during his movie’s best scene. Farrier adds that he feels “trapped” “because I have to make a film.”
The most convincing parts of “Mister Organ” concern Michael’s former roommates, all of whom repeat the same warnings about Organ’s dangerous and manipulative behavior. Farrier selectively excerpts these talking-head interviews though, since his movie’s largely about Organ as a bullying, irresistible “void.” Never mind that Organ’s former associates all confirm what Organ’s squirrelly behavior already makes clear — you should avoid this man however possible. Farrier’s resultant fascination with Organ translates into some nervy and oddly funny hostile interviews with Organ, who seems flattered by Farrier’s attention.
Still, it’s telling that Farrier bookends his movie with footage of an abandoned psychiatric institution, including a suggestive conversation with one of Organ’s former acquaintances. This footage isn’t really damning, but it does illustrate how hard Farrier has worked to turn Organ into a study in pathological behavior. There’s not enough evidence to make an ironclad case in “Mister Organ,” but there’s more than enough to convince viewers of Farrier’s theories about Organ and his mind-f–ky behavior.
Farrier succeeds in making Organ seem like the sort of toxic personality who, as even Organ says, can unassumingly wheedle their way into our lives without our noticing it. Never mind that Farrier has, over the course of “Mister Organ,” shown that he’s pursued Organ as much as he fears that he’s been stalked: Organ, the unshakable “clamper,” stands out because he’s both threatening and inscrutable.
Farrier doesn’t really take us to any dark corners of Organ’s life that he can’t talk his way out of, but “Mister Organ” does capture the miasmic anxiety that surrounds his mysterious subject.
“Mister Organ” makes its world premiere at the 2022 Fantastic Fest.