SHORT: WHAT DID JACK DO? (2017)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: David Lynch

PLOT: A detective interrogates a monkey suspected of murder.

Still from What Did Jack Do (2017)

COMMENTS: David Lynch made the curious short “What Did Jack Do?” in 2017 for a French museum exhibit, and screened it once more at his own Festival of Disruption in 2018. Other than that, this bit of monkey business was an overlooked footnote in his filmography, until Netflix dropped it onto their streaming service on January 20, 2020 (on Lynch’s 74th birthday).

Shot in Eraserheadian black and white, with Lynchian signatures like coffee and a left-field musical number1, “Jack” is basically a two-hander (almost a one-hander, since Lynch not only plays the interrogating detective, but also provides the monkey’s voice). There is a plot, of sorts, but mostly, it’s the detective and his simian suspect trading absurdist quips that occupy a space between the ineffably sinister and the ambiguously cliched: “Don’t worry. I’ve heard the phrase ‘birds of a feather flock together.’ A perceived fundamental. There are, of course, exceptions.”

“What Did Jack Do?” is, in essence, Lynch futzing around with the Surrealist potentialities of Syncro-Vox—the technique pioneered in the 1950s in which human lips are superimposed over animals or animated characters. Lynch’s experiment is extremely sophisticated, with his usual attention to detail: visually, the lips are blended so well that they almost pass as a real feature of the Capuchin monkey, remaining just off enough to supply an uncanny undertone that harmonizes wonderfully with the overt absurdity of a talking monkey in a suit and tie. Jack’s face is, of course, blank, and his gaze flits randomly, but depending on dialogue Lynch chooses to put in his mouth he can appear lovesick, resentful, or nervous. That’s a wonderful surrealist illusion. The result, while arguably slim, is still arresting and worth your time—and it goes without saying, a must-see for Lynch completists.

I showed it to a young Lynch neophyte; her main takeaway was “Jack is cute!”

Netflix’s business practices give them a lot to answer for, but they deserve credit when they get it right.  “What Did Jack Do?” is a super-niche offering that won’t be bringing the streamer new subscribers, but they’ve done a hell of a service to the cinephile community by making it available at all.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s weird as hell, man, and I can’t get enough of it.”–Miles Surrey, The Ringer (Netflix release)

  1. It’s also worth noting that a talking monkey had the briefest of cameos in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.

4 thoughts on “SHORT: WHAT DID JACK DO? (2017)”

    1. I’m thinking of their practice of canceling 90+% of their shows, even popular and critically successful ones, after 2-3 seasons: https://deadline.com/2019/03/netflix-tv-series-cancellations-strategy-one-day-at-a-time-1202576297/

      They also use their leverage to lock up movies and shows in onerous contracts, and were also criticized in the “Wall Street Journal” for creating a “culture of fear” because they’re so quick to fire employees.

      Basically, they act like a megacorporation concerned about their bottom dollar, which is to be expected.

  1. Ah, yes, those things…

    I’d say that on the other hand, they’re also producing a lot of television (I don’t have much to say about their movies) that otherwise either wouldn’t have been made, or at least not been made in such quantity. The commercial viability of the German-Netflix production “Dark”, for example, is dubious at best, and as much as it annoys me that there will be no more “Tuca & Bertie”, that project probably wouldn’t have come to fruition in the first place without the precedent set by Netflix to madly pour hundreds of millions of dollars into (comparatively) niche television.

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