David Lynch's Netflix short is what happens when artists are given no restrictions
The opening notes of Twin Peaks are now infamous and the show has become a ubiquitous part of pop culture. It has referenced and replicated to varying degrees of success. In the streaming wars, which has an ever-expanding set of providers vying for a seemingly finite amount of public attention, the kind of cult following that Twin Peaks had is an invaluable currency. But the success of what David Lynch created can’t be manufactured. It can’t be produced by studio executives. It’s got to come from the weird and unfettered brains of people like Lynch.
Netflix, already known for letting producers have a uniquely liberated amount of creative control, harnessed the power of David Lynch for his most recent project, What Did Jack Do, which premiered on the platform this week. The new short was written, edited, produced, and starred in, by Lynch and he sits across from a monkey named Jack.
Jack is being interrogated by Lynch, and the two exchange hard to decipher one-liners in an increasingly odd back and forth. An example: “You are a strong-arm man?” Jack asks. “You could say that,” Lynch responds. The dialogue doesn’t get much clearer. The entire 17 minutes is in a staticky black and white. It’s a somewhat surreal piece and doesn’t fit into any of the usual molds of what has previously been released on Netflix. It’s not a book adaptation or a six-season television show with beloved stars, but it does have the power to bring Lynch’s fans to the platform, thirsty for more of his work after the third season of Twin Peaks last year.
And that’s why it’s golden: it demonstrates that the platform is going to continue to experiment with new mediums of entertainment and allow creators like Lynch to produce whatever they want. And in a time where gaining new audiences is one of the most important things a streaming platform can do – plateauing audiences will result in a dip in profits for everyone. While Disney has become known for having an iron grip over the people they bring into the fold, and HBO existing in the cloud of usurping the second season of Big Little Lies away from director Andrea Arnold in favor of Jean-Marc Vallee, Netflix is constantly signaling that they not only have the money for ambitious projects, but they don’t feel the need to interfere with the creative process either.
In the case of What Did Jack Do, it was already created before Netflix got involved. Lynch premiered the short at Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain, in Paris, in the fall of 2017. It’s unclear if this is the beginning of a larger partnership between Lynch and Netflix, but it’s the kind of move that would put Netflix ahead in the constant rat race for original projects, which streaming platforms believe will be the key to securing new and growing audiences in the years to come. Netflix reportedly plans to spend $17 billion on content this year. Let’s hope some more of that is tossed to over to Lynch.