Mister Organ


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Mister Organ
"If you haven’t knowingly observed a narcissist before, this may well make for fascinating and, indeed, cautionary viewing." | Photo: courtesy of Glasgow Film Festival

He has made dubious claims to be a lawyer. Sometimes he claims to be a count. He once took extraordinary action in a court of law in an attempt to prove to the judge that he was a prince. International man of mystery, would-be yacht thief and, um, parking attendant, Mister Organ – who goes by many similar names – might not be taken very seriously elsewhere in the world, but in small town New Zealand/Aotearoa, he makes a big impression.

The work of journalist David Farrier, who became intrigued by Organ when he was implicated in a wheel clamping scam, and later fell foul of his litigious nature, this documentary attempts to get to the bottom of just who this man really is. It begins at Bashford Antiques, a quiet little store whose owner, the glamorously attired Jillian Bashford, is getting frustrated by people who keep parking in the private spaces in front of it. Soon headlines are being made as people protest about the exorbitant fines they’re being landed with for parking there. NZ$760 (about £380) for half an hour is a bit steep, but if it’s that or not get one’s car back, there’s not a lot of choice, and technically there’s nothing that the police can do. The scheme turns out to be run by Organ, whose entanglement with Bashford continues throughout the period covered by the film, but as he investigates, Farrier discovers that there’s a lot more to the story.

Family members and former flatmates pop up to share their stories as Farrier builds a portrait of a man who seemingly enjoys intimidating others and will stop at nothing to get his own way. Hilarious anecdotes hinting at an unhinged ego sit side by side with the accounts of distressed individuals who make it clear that there’s real human suffering involved. Israel Evers, Jillian’s son, described Organ as ‘creepy and evil’. One woman claims that that he punched her in the head six times. Somehow or other, he always seems to avoid any serious trouble from the law.

Inevitably, the man himself is interviewed. He comes and goes from Farrier’s life, sometimes stubbornly elusive, sometimes behaving like a stalker, seeming torn between his desire to avoid any kind of blame for anything and his desire for fame and attention. Many participants talk about how boring he is, something generally borne out by his appearances. Even with the merciful editing applied here, one can see the problem, and he clearly has no media training, trying to make an impression with punch remarks only to repeat them in diluted form over and over again. The film gets more interesting when he’s offscreen and it delves into different versions of him, with slightly different names, which appear, in places, to interact. Is Mister Organ aware of this? How far do his psychological problems go? A visit to a former psychiatric institution where he appears to have spent some time yields an encounter with a former resident who says that everyone there was glad to see the back of him.

If you haven’t knowingly observed a narcissist before, this may well make for fascinating and, indeed, cautionary viewing. If you have, well, as with most of them, he’s good for a few laughs, and then it’s just depressing looking into the void behind them. Fortunately, the effect of the latter is leavened here by the fact that there’s a second character study present in the film, as we watch Farrier struggle to make sense of his own conflicted emotions. He does some brave journalistic work here, but it’s clear that his compulsion to understand goes deeper than that. In the end, he’s the more interesting character, and the real reason why this film, which screened as part of the 2023 Glasgow Film Festival, is making a connection which viewers find it similarly hard to let go of.

Reviewed on: 07 Mar 2023
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Mister Organ packshot
A documentary about car clamping, an antique shop, an extortion scandal and a mystery man who might be a prince.

Director: David Farrier

Year: 2022

Runtime: 96 minutes

Country: New Zealand

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