“Zwartjes has always been of extreme influence in my own work… in the way you deal with concepts and decisions… in who is deciding what, when and WHY!”

Correspondence and words by Max J. Pell (collaborator)

Moniek Toebosch (Breda, 19 august 1948), the famous Frans Zwartjes diva, is the daughter of classical composer Louis Toebosch. A Dutch performance artist and actress, Toebosch has been working as a professor and giving workshops in her foreign country for over 40 years. She was director of Dasarts theatre of the AHK (Amsterdam College of Arts) from 2004 to 2008. Here, Max J. Pell, from Texas, shares pieces of his correspondence with her.

…Toebosch first collaborated with Zwartjes at the age of 21 in 1970’s Spare B edroomSpare Bedroom would be the first of many collaborations between Toebosch and Zwartjes in 1970.

Reflecting on the film, Toebosch said, “…the first movie I did, was shot in only one weekend together with Chris (Manders)… I was very impressed by Frans and the way he worked with [everyone]. I didn’t always know what he really wanted, but all the time, I tried to move the way he wanted me to.”

Reflecting more on her time with Zwartjes, Toebosch remembers:

I was often invited by Trix and Frans to their farmhouse, isolated from neighbors, close to a railway in the south of the Netherlands. There was a concrete garage in which he created his scenery all by himself. So, he sculpted and painted the interior of the garage. His wife, Trix, was his extreme model, but she also prepared the lunches and dinners (most of the time organic food without meat), for the actors and their two children. When lunch or dinner was ready she would, most of the time, act or to assist Frans during the shooting. It was, most of the time, very intensive. He was extremely focused on details in the way you were moving… looking in the right way… the atmosphere was always very serious as long as the camera was turned on.

Toebosch discussed Zwartjes‘ filming capacities, in filming, saying, “Frans was doing the light… developing of the film, all by himself. Even the extreme black-and-white makeup, he did.”

She continued, on the acting/filming experience:

“…he was watching you from nearby and making compliments about an eye [movement], your hands, a dress you had taken with you. Working with the other actors felt like being together with very close friends, after the shooting we made jokes, or we played music for the next movie. In the evening Zwartjes developed the movie, which was drying on wires in another part of his house. The next day, in the morning before we continued, he sometimes showed us the result. He almost didn’t need to edit the material after the shooting. He was editing while filming and just put the rolls together. Most of the time, the actors had no idea what it would look like later… there was no script, no story, no direction, there was just you as well as the filmmaker/cameraman and the circumstances. Later I understood the psychology of his work, his view on human beings, on society, his extreme interest in high heels, in women with big breasts, in dirty scenes (Eating) while being extremely focused on clean towels in the house.”

More specifically, Toebosch reflects on Seats Two, another Zwartjes collaboration from 1970.

Seats Two is a movie about dreaming. Just two girls on a bench looking at a picture of mountains and houses; it took hours to get what he [Zwartjes] wanted. The lamps were so close to us that we were almost burned — like by the sun — just in order to get the right black and white on the material which was always black and white reversal film.

“[In the film,] I am sitting on the bench with his wife Trix, in their living room. Some moments during the shooting we got very tired, because of the long periods of time he was trying to achieve better lightning. Sometimes he was even moving the lamp while simultaneously shooting with the camera, to get an impossible light movement… we laughed about him doing all of this and he got angry. So, we immediately continued being very serious. Before and after filming, we had a lot of fun. There are two documentaries on his work. One was made around 1970 by Rene Coelho for Dutch national TV and recently the other a few years ago…”

Toebosch on what she learned from working with Zwartjes and what it’s like seeing the films again, after all these years.

“What we learned from him was to focus on details, to be careful with any equipment, and stay focused on what you really want. And to stay concentrated. At the same time you, yourself, had to bring in the ‘action’, sometimes not more than the batting of your eyes (Spectator), and then he would encourage you once again: ‘once more, great, and once more, great, fantastic, well done.’The great thing about YouTube is that, 40 years later, there are movies to see that I only saw once in a cinema. So, I almost forgot what I did, what we did, which is a great experience once again.”

Moniek says she still talks to Zwartjes, from time-to-time, on the phone and periodically visits him in Den Haag. She reports that he is now focused on making music and asks her to collaborate whenever she’s available.

“Zwartjes has always been of extreme influence in my own work… in the way you deal with concepts and decisions… in who is deciding what, when and WHY!”

Toebosch noted that she studied singing, guitar, graphics, moviemaking, and fashion design before there was such a concentration as “multi-media” at her art school. She performed a solo music concept theatrical show in 1978, entitled They Say She’s a Singer.

Recently, Toebosch appeared in a video shown at the Moscow Modern Museum of Art (MMOA), which featured her performing a concert for cows in a meadow. She says, “it’s a group show entitled: The Impossible Community.”