This article is part of our coverage of the 2022 edition of Fantastic Fest, taking place from September 22-29. In this entry, we’re chatting with director David Farrier about his new documentary descent into madness, Mister Organ. Follow along with our reviews, interviews, and features from the fest in our Fantastic Fest archive.
“Why did you take the signs, David?” Honestly, that was the only question looming in my mind as I set up my zoom recorder to talk to journalist/documentarian David Farrier about his latest documentary, Mister Organ. The feeling of watching Mister Organ is like having someone cut in line in front of you, saying that they had already been waiting. Or when you paid at a restaurant with a hundred-dollar bill, and you don’t know if the waiter will give you change or assume they’re getting a generous tip. Or when someone takes credit for your work, saying they somehow inspired you and, therefore, you collaborated. These are life’s little entrapments. Of course, you could complain, but you fear they’ll make a fuss disproportionate to the infraction. Your only option is to simmer in this vaguely unsafe feeling until it passes.
As a journalist, David Farrier operates in those tight spaces between pushing boundaries and going too far. It’s his livelihood to ingratiate himself into someone’s life, grab the details they are reluctant to share, and get his story. Lucky for us, Farrier generally uses his superpowers for good. In Tickled, he exposed the seedy mastermind behind a seemingly innocuous competitive tickling ring. But this time, he found someone else lurking in his narrow domain: his arch nemesis, Michael Organ.
Farrier felt he was dealing with a master manipulator, a human eel who sometimes claims he’s a lawyer and other times says he’s a crowned prince. To lend Organ the slightest impression that he has something on you is to provide your day planner a lit match – he will incinerate your time. So, again, that begs the question, “Why did you take the signs, David?”
“Why’d I take the signs? Yeah. It was quirky at that time.” Farrier answered with a bemused smile, “I’d written these three stories on The Spinoff, which is a pop culture site I write for. The signs were just on the front forecourt, the shop had shut, they were living in a different city, they were sitting there, and I just thought, this is… I needed a photo for the final story.” Farrier was wrapping up his exposé on Michael Organ and Bashford Antiques, and now the store was defunct. The signs were essentially trash, so he loaded them into a van. “I can’t be bothered taking them to the tip, so I’m just going to dump them under the house we were renting. And it was just sort of a dumb, silly photo opportunity, in a way.”
When Farrier started reporting Michael Organ, he believed him to be a minor neighborhood menace. Organ seemed to be employed by Bashford Antiques to man their parking lot after hours. People would park in that lot, have a lovely evening in Ponsonby, and then return to find one of their tires in a clamp. And there would be Mister Organ to belittle them and collect $220 in cash to set them free. After barely scratching the surface, Farrier discovered that Michael Organ operates like the common cuckoo bird, inserting himself into other people’s lives as if he belongs there and then moving on when he’s sucked them dry.
After stashing the signage under his home, he received a phone call from the Aukland police. “I still remember going to the police station, the police officer saying, ‘Michael Organ has come in. He’s really upset that these signs are gone. He’s a fucking pain in the ass,’ this is paraphrasing. ‘Can we just give the signs back? It’s the easiest thing.'”
In my estimation, stealing someone else’s garbage is some low-stakes troublemaking. Farrier was certainly not entitled to those signs, and someone who gets their garbage stolen may be offended but rarely finds the matter worth the hassle. Unfortunately for Farrier, Michael Organ has a deep passion for the hassle.
Farrier readily agrees to return the signs, but when he goes to retrieve them from under his home, they’re already gone. “So, between complaining to the police and him and Jillian [the former owner of Bashford Antiques] making that police complaint, in two days’ max, at night, him or someone had been under the house, and the signs had been lifted. And I just remember that feeling, oh, you fucker. You never wanted them back. You just wanted to fuck with me.”
Farrier spends a lot of Mister Organ utterly confounded. The trouble with tussling with your nemesis is that they’re often impervious to your arsenal. The relationship between Farrier and Organ is not like Batman and The Joker, fatal opposites, but more like Mr. Fantastic and Doctor Doom – similar talents on two diametrically opposed missions. Both Farrier and Organ have a knack for intruding and creating narratives of other people’s lives. I asked if Farrier saw a bit of himself in Organ, and he balked.
“I had never thought about it in that way. I do like to create mischief, but I think I’m always trying to shine a light on people that I believe are doing some pretty awful things. Michael’s, yeah, he’s the dead opposite of that. He’s there to find good people who are open-hearted who let him into their lives and then just destroying them piece by piece. And that’s what I found really interesting about him. Sure, there’s elements of con man to him, but that wasn’t interesting to me. What’s interesting to me is the joy he seems to get from just unfurling people’s brains until they go a bit nuts.”
There is one scene in Mister Organ where Farrier does compare himself directly to Michael Organ. It was at the apex of his frustration following another impenetrable interview with his subject, and he said to the camera, “He has more money than me.” I asked Farrier what compelled him to make that comparison.
“If you go on the very boring factor of success being possessions and money and that stuff we’re always trying to work for because apparently, that’s what we’re meant to do in society. He’s just such a great example of someone who has nothing, and now he’s just inserted himself into someone’s life and just has so many objects. He’s got literally these really expensive antiques and artworks and things and access to a bank account. And it was just a very simple thing: if you want to win in life, a really good way to do it is just to bullshit your way through, and sort of make up your own reality. And it works.”
To me, this sentiment distinguishes the hero from the villain, the abhorrence of injustice. David Farrier is in it to make the world a more fair place. “We’re living in a time now where you can just make up your own facts, and it works for you. And Michael’s like a low-key version of that, where he is going through life creating his own reality. And it all sort of falls into place around him. He’ll grab your glasses and put them on, like, ‘but these are mine.’ And you can be like, ‘No. No, they’re mine.’ And he’s going to do better than you. He’s going to have your glasses. You’ll probably lose unless you punch him in the face or something.”
Spoilers for Mister Organ, but Farrier never resorts to fisticuffs. If anything got bruised, it was Farrier’s ego. “I thought I would sort of be invincible to him sort of fucking with your brain. I think I got across about 5% of the lunacy of what it’s like. Because to fully demonstrate it, the whole of Fantastic Fest would just be a cinema running all of the interviews with him, and you’d follow his logic. But there’s no way that you can explain that logic without seeing it all. And so, making this into a 90-minute feature, it’s really hard to demonstrate who Michael is in that full way. So, I think you get about 5% of who he is and what that experience is like.”
Not unlike Tickled, Mister Organ doesn’t end with the gratifying clank of a jail cell. Instead, this is one of those good-vs-evil stories where the villain is still at large, but our hero lives to fight another day, standing staunchly by his principles. “There’s an argument to make, should you give anyone a platform if they’re a terrible human? With this, yeah, I think you’ve got to shine a light on Michael. This is going to be in cinemas all across New Zealand. People will meet this man because he’s trying to insert himself into other people’s narratives as we speak. They’ll have the story about who he really is, and I think that’s super important. And I don’t think it can get worse for anyone he’s currently with. I think this can only make it, worst-case scenario, the same.”
Along with the exasperating bouts with the infamous Mister Organ, the documentary also includes interviews with Organ’s myriad of victims, many of whom had the regrettable history of living with the man. They each had their trust in humanity deeply wounded, and all they had to show for it were some hard-earned lessons. Farrier hopes that by sharing their stories, more of us can be spared. “I think people have low-key Mister Organs in their own lives. I think probably a lot of women have met men that are like Michael. He’s the extreme gaslighting man. There’s a lot of people that have elements of him. I hope people will watch it, recognize people may be in their lives that have elements of Michael and realize that that’s not okay and to maybe move on from certain people or step away from them in recognizing that.”
Ultimately, David Farrier’s quest in Mister Organ is to expose those societal leeches that cling to us, knowing that we don’t have the time or patience to flick the buggers off. Our Mister Organs are sapping our lives away, one minor indiscretion at a time. “I think sometimes you make excuses for people. You’re like, ‘Oh, that person gaslights occasionally, but it’s okay.’ That’s not okay. If you take that to an extreme, you end up with Mister Organ.”