The reviewer would like to remain anonymous.
Movie: Mister Organ
Director: David Farrier
Review by: Anon. [Author’s name withheld by request]
I watched it alone in a near-empty afternoon session at a cinema complex in provincial New Zealand near where I live. It finished; the credits rolled. I sat there scanning the names carefully, very carefully. I was in something of a daze, somewhat angry, somehow shocked, and very, very sad. I didn’t know quite how to keep my emotions in check as I gathered my competing thoughts, staring at the empty popcorn carton and ice cream wrapper stuffed into the cup holder, knowing that there was at least one other person near the back. They too had stayed for the whole of the credits. The lights had come on. Neither of us were moving. I will return to this during the review to explain how I got here and what I think about the film. It’s impossible not to have spoilers, but they are minimal.
The film begins at pace as Farrier plots the course of an expose, or something like that; but even in the first sequences he hints his gonzomentary narrative arc may be a rainbow ending in a pot of shit. Farrier had hoped to follow up on a consumer affairs and motorist’s nightmare: a creepy, bullying, motormouthed narcissist he had covered in an off-beat segment for a network TV news show more than a decade before. A mission to uncover the multiple identities behind the grainy images of a tubby, bearded man in his 30s with a shirt a size too small ranting legalistic nonsense outside his antique shop to apoplectic motorists as he had their Audis towed off. A profile of a fantasist par excellence – engaging and yet combative, vindictive in the extreme. Mr Organ: savvy, cynical, cruel, absurd. A truculent nuisance in an Auckland inner city suburb channelling so much pathologic energy that the law in New Zealand was changed to stop his type of extortion happening again. A social climber fallen off the radar. Where was this horrendous parasite now? There must be enough material on this character for a feature documentary, Farrier reasons. Or maybe not? It’s clear he needs an interview or some personal footage or the project is going nowhere. So the tension begins as Farrier in his first-person storytelling starts his quest: a rendezvous with his old nemesis. He starts his research. And then something unsettling happens at his place which makes it clear this guy is definitely fucking with him.
I gather the rubbish in the cupholder and make my way up the theatre aisle. It’s a small cinema about 40 seats. There’s a guy sitting one down from the back as I come up. I’m moving slowly because I’m partly in shock and feel a desperate need to talk to someone – anyone – about what just happened on screen over the last hour. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a sense of wanting to offload. As I draw level in the aisle I make eye contact and slide over a few seats to sit next to him. He’s stayed put for a reason. He’s a tidy looking older white guy, on pensioner’s hours I guessed. “So, what do you think?” I said to him cautiously. He told me something vague like we now know the facts and it is what it is. The answer seemed evasive, without opinion – which didn’t seem possible. It seemed he was more interested in what I had to say – that’s why he waited for me wasn’t it?
Farrier made inquiries to locate this would-be Mister Evil. In the meantime Organ had become aware of the focus, located Farrier and used a court to force Farrier’s attendance at the provincial town where he now lives (not mine thank Christ!) in order to pursue a self-evidently concocted case. A gift for Farrier in that it both reveals proof positive the extent of Organ’s psychotic fixation and ties Farrier personally into the story suiting his style of documentary-making where it’s as much about Farrier as it is about his subject. Problem for Farrier – there’s no proof positive Organ was the offender and Organ is drawing Farrier into a game where Farrier is going to be a move behind, maybe several. An unwinnable game. The result was Farrier is bested, left owing Organ an over-blown bill, standing outside the courthouse irritated, deflated and bemused. Farrier’s camera operator, hiding on the other side of the street, catches a fleeting few seconds of Organ exiting. Stalking someone who has already pre-stalked you doesn’t seem like it will work. One wonders how Farrier could lose in such an unmeritorious case. Organ had pretended he was a lawyer at one stage – maybe he was. Farrier really has nothing at this point. The breakthrough comes that night when Organ’s vanity prevails and to Farrier’s – and our – amazement agrees to an interview. At Farrier’s dingy motel (charitably described as a hotel) at the appointed time appears Organ and his sugar mama from the Auckland antique shop. They are both layered in scarves and coats, like they are playing dress up. Organ is chatty, haughty, prickly, defensive, riding high on the court victory, enjoying Farrier’s attention. After it’s done Farrier – and we – still don’t know if there is anything there. No revelations, no insight into motivation. We are beginning to see how he ticks, but not why. We can’t see the clockwork for the face. Farrier cannot get a word in once Organ proceeds spinning a verbal Escher web that defies fact and logic. The questioning was not productive except to Organ, revelling no doubt. For so much talking and hours of footage there is merely a cloud of static and a string of denials wrapped in pseudo-legalese. We see Organ and his lady friend enjoy their vino, maybe they are alcoholics? What is their relationship? Organ clearly has her mesmerised, but not as lovers, more like a doting aunt and nephew. Farrier needs another interview – and he gets one – but not before some unsavoury revelations about Organ’s modus operandi. A slew of prior disgruntled entanglements beckon.
The man in the cinema is clearly up for an impromptu debrief – there’s just the two of us in there – but keeps fudging my questions with non-answers. We are both keeping our cards face down, so I turn mine over first: Farrier never had a gotcha in the footage anywhere, nothing in Organ’s own words, no video or audio of him doing any of these things or admitting to anything, witnesses and hearsay by themselves aren’t enough to satisfy. Farrier was frustrated the whole time and it showed at the end. He’s blaming himself and we’re blaming him too and now we are pitying. Organ is laughing. The other thing is Organ is gay – isn’t he – and most of these guys are gay but that’s not been told sufficiently, let’s get real so we can understand the dynamics. But the end part, about Brent, that was shocking. I lived in Auckland before coming here. I knew him, knew him well. When his picture came up a wave of emotion hit – there he was twenty feet high in front of me without warning so how could I not react?
Farrier is granted another interview. More Organ face time, and again another fruitless, farcical, entropic orbit round the mindfuck mulberry bush. Farrier brings in several candid interviews from his research: people recovering from his dealings, former flatmates. Some are anonymised, voices distorted; but some just won’t take the risk of speaking. Kindly people manipulated, taken advantage of and discarded. Something nasty here certainly – everyone is telling Farrier to steer clear, but he must persist as he is invested in the film. We sense he’s trapped in the movie-industrial complex where there is apparently no fun in funding. It’s been five years where is my fucking movie!? It’s a documentary where the only documents seem to be the court case where the documentary-maker got his arse handed to him by the subject of the documentary. It’s at about the mid-point it dawns on the audience, as it dawns on Farrier, that a fool’s errand has become a kamikaze mission. What can he salvage?
The man in the cinema listened intently to my take. I told him that Auckland may be a million and a half people but it’s still a fairly small place. No degree of separation. Not only did I know Brent I also knew – totally independently – another victim that was interviewed. He was a thoroughly nice chap too and I had no idea he had the misfortune to have been reduced by Organ. I explained I had lived near the Antique shop for a time, knew of the clamping mayhem and also Brent and his Grey Lynn bookshop poetry events where in the eclectic milieu Organ would circulate, permeate, ingratiate, calculate. Farrier had contacted me by phone about two years ago regards Organ, but more about Brent. I had recalled what I could, albeit sketchy, from those days almost two decades ago and gave as many leads as possible. Frustratingly I couldn’t quite remember the crucial details Farrier wanted and probably because I didn’t want to know at the time. I warned him that Organ was poison and not to go near him. Farrier replied that everyone had told him that. I meant it – we meant it. It is not worth the effort – it never will be, it never will be. Choose another subject. Choose Brent – he’s quite interesting as a person (he once drove all the way out to Hunter S Thompson’s place in the Rockies in the hope of an interview and he said Dr Thompson opened the front door wielding a gun and told him to fuck off), also a funding trifecta of Jewish/gay/leftist not too shabby. Choose the nuggety dude at the start interviewed in the boat shed, he looked cool, he has gritty stories. Choose the old loony bin and its caretaker – that part worked a real treat. Choose someone randomly out of the fucking phone book, but don’t do this guy. I had learnt of Organ’s doings before I never met him. Perceiving the threat I had avoided him at the events where our paths would cross. I would move to the other side of the room and avoid eye contact – an irksome precaution, but a judgement vindicated for all time by Farrier.
Farrier finds and then gets invited into the old bank building where the pair seem to be setting up an antique shop. She is clearly loaded and not just in the sense of being drunk. More costume changes, she’s wearing a British colonial style pith helmet, and more wine why not. Given only nice people are taken advantage of by Organ my guess is the lady is benign, but Organ is her handler fending off questions pitched in her direction so we discover nothing. Anyone else it would be considered chivalrous, him – controlling. Maddeningly Farrier once again gets precisely nowhere and Organ humanised in the process. An amusing few moments are captured between the three of them with Organ at one point exasperated with not being able to discuss something on camera because of the cultural sensitivities around Islam demands Sugar Lady drop even the mention of it. The art of knowing when to just give the fuck up and cut your losses. I can’t help but think Farrier in mitigation would have been better off with the story development in painting Organ as a more harmless, comical George Costanza-type and deferring all the darker material until the last part, avalanching it where it would have more impact, rather than stick to the quixotic chronology of his own sojourn tilting at the windmill of Organ’s mind, minced in its counter-rotating blades.
The man in the cinema didn’t need convincing by my unsolicited, seemingly paranoid, outpouring – Farrier had picked a self-demonising character. I asked the man whether he had heard about the legal stuff Organ had thrown at Farrier just before the movie premiered? No. Well… on my twitter feed the week prior a flurry of stuff about a Family Court document claiming Farrier was associated with an incident and had to attend a course and not associate etc. Organ had evidently fucked him again by using the original court case to continue retribution. Farrier was trapped – he couldn’t say anything about it because he would be in breach of the court rules and it threw his attendance at the premier into doubt if Organ showed up because of the non-association order as I understand it. Hilarious. Borked again. A cinema staff member had come in and began to clean around us, but my emergency trauma counselling with the man was not over, and now he looked ready to spill. How many stars are we not going to give this?
As the clock runs down, and consigned to the reality of missing pieces, Farrier scrambles to jam the jigsaw together in a desperate sequence of ethically dubious night time door stop interviews of Organ’s siblings before throwing a Hail Mary pass with Brent’s tortured story told without the benefit of his presence. It’s dramatic, it’s serious, but it cannot stick against a teflon Organ – as difficult and as dodgy as that sounds – if all there is Brent’s mates, myself included, not being able to definitively pin anything on him exactly. Emotions about it are high, myself included, but not enough however for the full condemnation (my observation for what it’s worth: Brent admired Hunter S Thompson and Ernest Hemmingway). The final scene is not nearly enough to redeem a fundamentally failed project, but the revelation, the old guy, the setting and the use of light and atmosphere in that sequence is gorgeous. And credits roll. What the hell did I just see?
The man in the cinema had listened patiently and sympathetically to me. Farrier’s documentary about how not to make a documentary had resulted in the cinema audience – two complete strangers – convening a post mortem so fast the body was still twitching. Well, so that’s why I’m here, why are you here? He said he was a pastor of a church nearby. He’s aligned with another church group Arise, Awake, Awash, Aware, Amass, Amex or something like that, the happy-clappy televangelist-style ones in Auckland where Farrier has accused the pastor there of ripping off the congregation. Oh. So, he’s seeing what his friend is up against, eh, a reconnoitre for the WASPs with EFTPOS. Not many degrees of separation in the rest of New Zealand either. My immediate thought is that the target pastor is gay – why else would Farrier and him be fighting? Why get involved in a church he probably thinks is phoney anyway – why is it his business? Like with Organ – why make it your business? Why would the audience really care that a group of mugs are funding someone’s flash house, I don’t think they would, they would say good job the flock deserves to be fleeced. Does it matter that the personality is attractive to Farrier and vice-versa perhaps? Christ knows, but I didn’t voice this to him. We make our way out of the theatre to the foyer, talking. This guy has enough old man straight energy to have misunderstood most of the relationships. I had watched Farrier’s previous documentary “Tickled” after he had called me. The same scenario essentially. Farrier prefers the story to turn on him; but this one got well out of control. It is unsettling and unsatisfying where evil prevails, and Organ is clearly not any sort of anti-hero just anti. Conventionality was just too obvious. If you pick on nice people all the time, they’re invariably all too nice to do anything about it. What sort of misanthropic anti-homily is that supposed to be? Can they re-cut with an epilogue about the continuing court saga? Could they include a psychiatric assessment of Organ’s disorders? Is any of this worth it? Is it ever? We agreed we couldn’t produce any film rating as we were both interested parties by connection to Farrier and therefore biased (so, just like Farrier’s meandering film that goes nowhere, this review will result in no star rating, but think of it as zero rather than an asterisk if you get my drift). I thanked the grey anoraked man for the therapy session, we shook hands, he headed to the gents and I disappeared into the afternoon foot traffic.