Calgary Underground 2023: MISTER ORGAN Review
David Farrier does not like bullies. He cannot abide liars. And I dare guess that he is not a fan of litigious revenge either. The New Zealand journalist turned filmmaker has a particular knack for sussing out the strange people who embody a combination of all three of these things. He meticulously, and beguilingly, gives shadowy bullies the full investigative treatment. I felt that his previous documentary, Tickled, about the doxxing, exploitive groomer David D'Amato, a man of inherited wealth behind an international "Competitive Tickling League," was a once-in-a-lifetime sinister rabbit hole to fall into.
Mister Organ proves that lightning can strike the same place twice. And that place happens to be where David Farrier is sitting. After writing a series of pieces on the exploitive practice of "Private Car Clamping" - that is to say, immobilizing a vehicle and extorting the owner for ransom on private property - in a tony suburb of Aukland, Farrier not only exposed the practice in the city, but got the law about this practice changed. In the process he antagonized the owner of the store, and the parking lot, Jill Beshford. Along with her partner Michael Organ, the pair did not take lightly to their lucrative side-hustle being shut down. Organ went on to sue and harass Farrier in the oddest way. I will not spoil the craziness here, though, as just how deep the rabbit hole goes is part of the appeal of Farrier's documentaries.
Instead of paying the court fines and walking away from the weird mess, of course, Farrier investigates further into the strange history of his mysterious antagonist. And yes, it yields a deep trove of frivolous law-suits, roommate restraining orders (and sadly, a suicide), the theft of a yacht, a litany of estranged relatives, an international royalty title scam, and falsely planted antiques. The question looms, is Jill his latest victim or is David? Or both?
Farrier develops a close(ish), possibly dangerous, relationship with Michael Organ over a five year period, and in a way becomes the subject Organ's signature harassment, conspiracy, grand grievances, and gaslighting. This is the filmmakers chosen pathway of exposing the sordid hydra of Organ's lifelong existence. At one point in in the film, in an existential crisis, talking on the phone (to his partner or producer, I am not sure which) about the progress of film we are watching, Farrier articulates his position through his own emotion and tears, "He wears you down ... You pay a soul tax every minute you spend with Micheal Organ."
Again, I am reminded of the risky 'method' documentaries of Danish filmmaker Mads Brügger (The Ambassador, Cold Case Hammarskjöld, Red Chapel), who has a similar TV host turned filmmaker career trajectory as Farrier. These are artists who raise the stakes of how a movie is made, and put an alarming amount of skin in the game, inserting themselves into narrative in a way that exposes disturbing things in this world. Another filmmaking genius, Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line, Tabloid, Mr. Death) who is also no stranger to lawsuits and intelligent weirdos, has made change in the world, and increased our understanding of the world by, essentialy, 'going to war' (metaphorically) with his subjects.
Farrier aligns with each of these successful filmmakers, both in methodology, and craft. Note how the subjects of Mister Organ are framed and lit (mise-en-scene for the film-nerd set) as a way of further elucidating meaning (or mood) of the witnesses tale. Be it 'spy like' over the shoulder framing, menacingly deep red and blue lighting, or, at one point, Farrier himself wearing a plain black T-Shirt with the sentence "Yes, everyone seems to be asleep," to a patio coffee-date with Jill and Michael.
Mister Organ is entertaining in the way the true crime documentary genre has blossomed in the past decade or two. It also captures the exhausting and petty banality of its main subject. A man who has left a trail of emotional (and fiscal) carnage in the wake of his narcissism. It turns out that 'clamping' is not just the gateway to this queer tale, but also a powerful metaphor unto itself. Michael Organ latching onto people for decades, he traps them and extorts them before moving onto the next latching.
In the Q&A during the screening I was at, Farrier brought up the western worlds most famous pathological liar, impossible narcissist and bully: Donald Trump. Our 21st century moment, where the tentacles of the internet are into everything, has spawned an ever growing legion of this type of character. This is not a new kind of villain, but a kind of poisoned human malignancy presented in a new kind of way. Farrier's engaged curiosity, and self-deprecating obstinacy, becomes a kind of talisman in this battle against these bullies. His films are a ray of pale sunlight trying to disinfect the world for the rest of us, or at least offer us a silhouette, a concept, of what the rest of us should be vigilant.
- David Farrier