Tabu by Robert Flaherty, F.W. Murnau |Matahi Hitu, Matahi | 738329201920 | DVD | Barnes & Noble


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Director: Robert Flaherty, F.W. Murnau

Cast: Matahi Hitu, Matahi


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Tabu is a lyrical documentary of Polynesian life, given added audience appeal with a fictional plotline. The story concerns a young island girl (Anna Chevalier, who like everyone in the cast is a non-professional) who has been consecrated to the gods by her tribespeople. It is thus "tabu" for her to marry; still, she falls in love with a handsome young pearl


Tabu is a lyrical documentary of Polynesian life, given added audience appeal with a fictional plotline. The story concerns a young island girl (Anna Chevalier, who like everyone in the cast is a non-professional) who has been consecrated to the gods by her tribespeople. It is thus "tabu" for her to marry; still, she falls in love with a handsome young pearl fisherman (Matahi). The island's holy man takes the girl away in his schooner. Her lover swims after her, but eventually sinks disconsolately into the ocean. Shot completely on location, it was supposed to be a collaboration between German director F. W. Murnau and American documentary producer Robert Flaherty. Flaherty withdrew from the project when he realized the film was taking a romanticized approach. Murnau never lived to see the final product; he was killed in a car accident just before the film's opening. Begun as a silent film in 1929, Tabu was released in that form in 1931, despite the fact that talking pictures already had been established for nearly three years.

Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Donald Gray
A sensual island masterpiece, Tabu began as the collaboration between two talented Hollywood outsiders -- accomplished documentarian Robert Flaherty (Nanook of the North), who had recently been fired from his first attempt at fiction filmmaking, and German expatriate Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, whose American debut, Sunrise, was an artistic triumph that had failed miserably at the box office. The pair set out for the South Seas in 1929 and, working from an original story by Flaherty, hashed out a tragic screen tale of youthful love destroyed by societal conventions. Tabu relates the elemental story of a young island fisherman (the exceptionally virile Matahi) whose nascent romance with the beautiful Reri (Anna Chevalier) is dashed when a visiting tribal chief decrees her a holy maid whom it is taboo for any man to touch. Despite the directors' shared romanticism and affinity for lyrical beauty, their collaboration fell apart once it moved to the directing stage. Flaherty found himself confounded by Murnau's imperious approach and eventually abdicated control of the film. As a result, the sun-drenched Tabu gradually drifted into darker thematic waters, leading to a fateful finale so perfectly composed and rhythmically edited that it still has the power to make modern audiences swoon. The film's sumptuous black-and-white cinematography earned cameraman Floyd Crosby an Oscar. And although Tabu wasn't released until 1931 -- four years after The Jazz Singer -- it is a resolutely silent film, with images so distilled that not a single title card is necessary to convey dialogue. Sadly, Murnau would never again climb to such artistic heights; he was killed in an automobile accident only a few short weeks before the premiere of this cinematic jewel.
All Movie Guide - Richard Gilliam
Tabu very nearly failed because of the clash in styles between its co-directors F. W. Murnau and Robert Flaherty, but it ultimately succeeded because cinematographer Floyd Crosby's work dominated the film. Murnau's greatest films -- Nosferatu (1922), Der Letzte Mann (1924), and Sunrise (1927) -- were noted for their superb visual design, particularly their highly stylized expressionistic sets. In Tabu, he faced the challenge of a film with no artificial sets, just the natural surroundings and occasional buildings of Polynesian life. Documentarian Flaherty was the master of exotic locations, experienced in filming in harsh, diverse weather conditions. As might have been predicted, Flaherty and Murnau had conflicting visions of what Tabu should be, resulting in Flaherty's leaving the project well before completion. What survives is arguably more Crosby's than Murnau's or Flaherty's. Unlike many cinematographers, Crosby was adept at shooting exterior sequences that involved open water. The result was a film good enough to release silent some five years after the advent of movie sound. Crosby won an Oscar for his work, and the distinction of causing the Academy to alter its rules, making travelogue films like Tabu ineligible for future cinematography Oscars. (The rule was later changed again, in effect rescinding the prohibition).

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Special Features

The language of shadows: Tabu, a 15-minute documentary by Luciano Berriatúa on the making and restoration of the film "Tabu: Takes & Outtakes," 26 minutes of previously unseen sequences, assembled by Enno Patalas from unused footage, courtesy of the Österreichisches Filmmuseum Wien and Cineteca del Comune di Bologna "Tabu: A Work in Progress" ("Tabu: Feature zur Werkgenese"), 15 minutes of raw camera footage, with narration, produced by the Deutsche Kinemathek "Hunt in the South Seas" ("Treibjagd in der Südsee"), a 1940 ethnographic short compiled from unused footage of Tabu

Cast & Crew

Scene Index

Disc #1 -- Tabu
1. Chapter 1 [10:07]
2. Chapter 2 [11:36]
3. Chapter 3 [13:20]
4. Chapter 4 [4:23]
5. Chapter 5 [11:57]
6. Chapter 6 [10:29]
7. Chapter 7 [7:06]
8. Chapter 8 [2:19]
9. Chapter 9 [14:53]

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Tabu 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
For discerning fans of classic filmmaking, the surviving work of director F.W. Murnau remains some of the most significant and stunning of the silent era. Filmed entirely in Tahiti, ¿Tabu¿ would prove to be Murnau¿s last film (he died in a tragic car accident on March 11, 1931, just weeks before the film¿s premiere) and most unusual ¿ he actually collaborated with director Robert Flaherty (¿Nanook of the North¿) in this tale of two doomed lovers that unintentionally transports ¿Romeo and Juliet¿ into the South Pacific. Unlike his landmark expressionist titles such as ¿Nosferatu¿ and ¿Faust,¿ Murnau¿s ¿Tabu¿ is set mostly outdoors and features dazzling images of beautiful young native men and women at home in their Polynesian paradise in the first part of the film, with haunting images used to chronicle tragedy and paradise lost in the second half of the 81 minute classic. Although no members of the cast were professional actors, the performances by Matahi (as a young pearl fisherman) and Reri (as the ¿tabu¿ island girl) are moving. More than 70 years after its release, ¿Tabu¿ remains essential viewing, and UCLA¿s restoration of this classic has been a highlight of the schedule of new DVD releases in 2002. In fact, the film¿s luxurious black-and-white cinematography garnered cameraman Floyd Crosby an Oscar.