Tabu: A Story
of The South Seas
ONLY NATIVE-BORN SOUTH SEA ISLANDERS (and a couple of half-castes and Chinese!)
Director F W Murnau filmed the finely-shot silent movie, Tabu: A Story of
The South Seas on location in Tahiti. This classic silent is one of the
Masters of Cinema series and tells of the power ancient beliefs had over the
people who lived with them.
Matahi is a fisherman who lives on
the idyllic island of Bora Bora and has fallen in love with the beautiful Reri.
So far, so good. But when a yacht enters the natural harbour like a harbinger
of doom, you understand that life in paradise is threatened.
Greeted with enthusiasm Bora Bora would have had few visitors
the yacht Moana carries a special passenger: Hitu, the representative
of the Chief of Fanuma. He gives the islanders a decree: The virgin sacred to
the gods has died and the chief has demanded another maiden from Bora Bora
one who is "chosen for her beauty, for her virtue, for her royal blood… She
who is named Reri."
The decree comes with a warning: "No law of the gods is to be more feared than
that which guards the sacred virgin. Man must not touch her or cast upon her
the eye of desire… From this time forth, she is Tabu."
Both Matahi and Reri (Anna Chevalier, who went on to play on Broad-way) are
devastated. Matahi steals her away from the yacht and they eventually find another
island, where the white man rules and the old gods are forgotten. Somewhere
that they begin to feel safe.
But can they escape the laws of their culture and the terrible price to be paid
for breaking the Tabu? Can Matahi and Reri find happiness away from the
land of their forefathers on an island where money is a necessary
evil. Will their love prevail in this so-called civilised world, where Matahi
faces the dangers of the sea as a pearl diver?
This film was a cinematic landmark from two of cinema's finest directors
F W Murnau (Nosferatu, Faust, Sunrise) and Robert Flaherty
(Nanook of the North, Moana, Man of Aran)
and the Oscar-winning cinematography was by Floyd Crosby. The completely uncensored,
fully-restored extended version is now available for the first time on DVD.
Worthy of any DVD historic collection, Tabu is artistically filmed in
black and white and is a delight of contrasts. Shadow and light and movement
and stillness are used to great effect.
In 1929, leading documentarist Robert Flaherty was invited by F W Murnau
one of the greatest of all film directors to collaborate on Tabu.
Murnau believed a cast of island actors would provide a new form of authentic
drama and offer a rare insight into their culture. Tabu reflects the details of indigenous island life to relate a mythical
tale that is rich in the universal themes of desire and loss.
Unfortunately, Flaherty eventually left the film following a series of artistic
and other differences. But Tabu itself is both poetic and simple
a film of rare exoticism and magical beauty. A lyrical vision of island life,
Tabu was described by critic Lotte Eisner in 1931 as "the apogee of the
art of the silent film".
"Across the great waters I will come to you in your dreams. When the moon spreads
its path on the sea..."
Tabu: A Story of The South Seas,
a film by F W Murnau, was released on 19 November (2007). Catalogue Number EKA
40229/ Bar-code 5060000402292. Certificate: PG. Running Time 82 minutes approx.
Format B&W. Genre: Drama. Director F W Murnau. Year: 1931, USA.
Special Features include an 80-page book featuring much archival imagery; articles
by Scott Eyman (film critic and author of The Speed of Sound: Hollywood and
the Talkie Revolution, 1925-1930); Richard Griffiths (author of The
World of Robert Flaherty) and David Flaherty (Robert's brother and assistant
director on the film); an interview with the film's cinematographer Floyd Crosby;
the original story treatments written by F W Murnau and Robert Flaherty for
Tabu and its aborted predecessor Turia; full-length com-mentary
track; and details of the original theatrical trailer.