Tabu A Story of the South Seas (1931) DVD Blu-Ray

June 13th, 2013
Author: Meredith Taylor

Director/Writer: F W Murnau and Robert Flaherty

Cast: Matahi, Matahi Hitu, Jules, Kong Ah, Anna Chevalier, Jean Jules

80min   German  Adventure Drama

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The south sea Island paradise of Bora Bora is the setting for this picturesque lyrical love story of a Polynesian legend. F.W. Murnau invited leading documentarist Robert Flaherty (Man of Aran) to collaborate on an experiment featuring a cast of island natives (“and a few half-castes and Chinese”!!!). It won an Oscar for Best Cinematography thanks to the efforts of Floyd Crosby who delicately captures the exotic and untouched feel of this untainted territory in black and white.  It turned out to be a labour of love for the director as well as those depicted in the film. In a weird twist of fate, F W Murnau was killed in a car accident before the film premiered having financed it himself and fallen out with Flaherty over script issues.

Bathed in sunshine under the sheltering palms, TABU plays like an exotic thirties travelogue with its lilting Hollywood soundtrack composed by Hugo Riesenfeld. A sultry native girl, Reri, (Chevalier) is declared ‘tabu’ and untouchable by her fellow tribespeople and promised to the local deity. But a pearl fisherman, Matahi, falls for her charms and they escape to a nearby French colony where they are forced to adapt to Western life with tragic consequences.  ‘Tapu’ is a Polynesian word from which we get the English ‘Taboo”.

In 1994 The film was declared “culturally, historically and aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.  Scenes of nudity that had been previously banned by Paramount were reinstated in the DVD transfer which includes:

– Commentary with R Dixon Smith and Brad Stevens;

– 15-minute Germany documentary about TABU by Luciano Berriatua;

– Newly presented outtakes from the original shoot;

– An interview with Floyd Crosby;

The original story treatments written by Murnau and Flaherty for TABU



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