January 15th, 2011 / 6:35 pm

Notes On Frans Zwartjes’s Living (1971)

While researching Futurist filmmakers this morning, I somehow stumbled across this Dutch filmmaker named Frans Zwartjes (who’s not a Futurist). I watched a few of his short films (which you can find at ubuweb) and then decided to track down more information on him. Turns out, Mike wrote about one of Zwartjes’s films called Living at his old film site. I began reading his words and when I got to the line “it remains not only my favorite Zwartjes film, but also one of the best films that I’ve ever seen,” I quickly decided to stop reading so as not to spoil my initial viewing experience with any preconceived ideas. Instead, I just went and watched it here . Fuck’n A, folks. I’m with Mike. This film is utterly mesmerizing. I recommend sacrificing 15 minutes of your life to it.

Half the time I am fixated on the question, “How is he doing that with the camera? What kind of gyroscopic jib-arm has he created? Makes me think of the opening of Gaspar Noé’s Irreversible. Makes me think: why can’t more films incorporate this style of fluid camerawork? Such a beautiful and captivating visual poetics.

Sexuality thumps from opening to close. Erotic, naughty and perhaps perverse and perhaps objectifying. It is difficult not to view Trix sexually when her breasts are so prominently on display and we are given numerous upskirt shots. Perhaps the sexuality is primal? Sometimes it seems necromantic — Trix never smiles, she looks like a zombie! The languid camera work is juxtaposed with these rapid flicker cuts, which at one point fully reveal Trix’s breasts. Frans is not equally sexualized. He is the voyeur who does not look directly at his object. He is pale, but not painted like Trix. They communicate telepathically, except for one shot where we can see his lips moving, but quickly the film cuts away.

Could these be cadavers risen from the funeral home, perhaps the funeral home is in the basement, perhaps they have risen from the basement, perhaps they are trapped, perhaps they are ghosts rather than zombies?

They do seem to float.

Frans is in a suit, he has power. Not for nothing, Frans is in control of the camera. He holds the camera much like the ubiquitous myspace type camera shot, where you hold your camera out with one hand and look longingly off into the distance. He resists breaking the fourth wall. He is filming but pretending he is not filming, or, maybe he is extremely aware of the fact that he is being filmed. Perhaps he is posing?

What can this film say about Mulvey’s “gaze” or Shaviro’s “cinematic body”?

The music intensifies the strangeness. It is like ominous sci-fi epic.

Frans continually puts his handkerchief in his mouth, sometimes to suck on it, sometimes to daub his lips as though he had just finished a meal. Reminds me of that image from Matthew Barney’s Cremaster cycle:

Frans and Trix are moving, but they aren’t going anywhere. They fluctuate and circumnavigate, but rarely do they interact face to face. She disappears and reappears by the movement of the camera. He wants to escape but cannot. Perhaps he is looking for a way out?

Brings to mind Xavier de Maistre’s A Voyage Around My Room (1794).

What are those miniatures they construct? Trix steps on the paper.

How startling when we see both of Frans’s hands. The lens makes them look too big for him, makes the room look disproportionate.

They move into a white room and then exit the white room and this is it. No start or end, unless this action is the start and end.

The white room. Color pops when we see it in the bathroom, or the red stairs.

What are they looking at? They seem to be investigating something, but what? They seem to be inspecting the place. They seem to see more than what can feasibly be available for them to see: as if they are in a forest looking up at the trees, watching the birds and monkeys frolic in the canopy, but we are indoors. There is no outdoors. The big window is blown out with light. There is a window on the roof, it too is blown out with light.

They can’t be human, but they look so human.


  1. reynard

      maybe it’s objectification but those breasts are making me want to tie one on tonight

  2. Scott mcclanahan

      I watched this Christopher and it’s wonderful. Do you know the book by Amos Vogel, “Film As A Subversice Art”?

  3. Christopher Higgs

      Hey, Scott. I have that book on my list of books to get, but you bringing it up here today has got me thinking maybe I should move it to the top of the list. I’m assuming it’s awesome?

  4. Scott mcclanahan

      Yes. It’s essential as a list for films like these.

  5. deadgod

      subvervice and subvervise

      supervicive, supervisive


  6. S. Zavattini

      Those things made me want to put on a diaper and bonnet and call mommy.

  7. lorian

      was her slit glowing?

  8. MG

      I think this film is what it’s like when you drop acid in purgatory.

  9. M. Kitchell

      that time kathy acker writes, maybe, three paragraphs or something and then stops and says “and all of what i have just written is the sun” and zwartjes has made the solar-glare over and over and over again without letting the light touch.

      pentimento, his ‘feature’ is also completely perfect, icy, holding.

  10. Tim Horvath

      Thanks for the lead, Chris…fifteen minutes well spent (longer if you count the afterburn of thinking about it). To me it felt like an inversion of what happens when a couple looks at a living space–the living space in this case is looking at them, scrutinizing them, considering what potential futures they have to offer it, where it might put those nostrils, breasts, brow-creases, unvoiced anxieties, etc.

  11. On Esoteric Interests & The Pain That Follows* | HTMLGIANT

      […] body responds to them in a way completely unlike any other films. I’ve watched Living (which Chris Higgs wrote about here on HTMLGiant) probably 100 times–it was the first film of Zwartjes’s I ever saw, thanks to a partial […]

  12. On Esoteric Interests & The Pain That Follows* | HTMLGIANT

      […] body responds to them in a way completely unlike any other films. I’ve watched Living (which Chris Higgs wrote about here on HTMLGiant) probably 100 times–it was the first film of Zwartjes’s I ever saw, thanks to a partial […]

  13. Berrio Oscar

      Can someone speculate about the camerawork in this film?