Like a real-life incarnation of the most annoying people you’ve ever tangled with online, Michael Organ– antagonist and subject of David Farrier’s latest documentary Mister Organ, streaming now in the usual places– seems to have taken Mark Twain’s apocryphal quote about arguing with fools and built an entire lifestyle around it. He draws people into preposterous situations, which are then impossible to get out of without becoming preposterous.
He’s a particularly modern kind of petty terrorist, and in trying to make a film about him, Farrier—director of Tickled, an equally hard-to-summarize 2016 documentary that begins as an exploration of “competitive endurance tickling” videos—found himself drawn into Organ’s web. Mister Organ, which is also playing in theaters in New York and Los Angeles, is about Farrier’s struggle to both explain Organ and free himself from Organ’s orbit.
Horror films function by allowing us to externalize and neutralize our gnawing, subconscious fears. Mister Organ works in some of the same ways, making real a kind of modern bogeyman, one who doesn’t hurt his victims physically or even financially, but robs them of an even more precious commodity—time.
“After Tickled, I started pivoting a lot of my written journalism towards strange rabbit holes,” Farrier says. “And I don’t know if I was good at finding them or they were good at finding me, or it was just luck, but I do seem to stumble into some unusual situations.”
The rabbit hole that became Mister Organ began with a story about a “car park terrorist” in the Ponsonby neighborhood of Auckland, New Zealand. Much like a scofflaw with unpaid tickets can get her car “booted” in the US, New Zealand has “clamps”– and until recently, owners of private car parks in New Zealand were allowed to clamp illegal parkers themselves, and to charge basically whatever they wanted to unclamp them.
And it turned out that a humble antiques shop in Auckland was so consistently clamping cars that they were becoming known more for this particular form of bespoke extortion than for antiques.
“I lived really close by at the time,” Farrier says, “and there’d just always be police there at 10 o’clock at night, people screaming, people yelling. And I was just like, what the fuck is going on? This is a boring antique store, but the most drama in Auckland, New Zealand, is happening in their car park every night.”