thu 26/04/2018

DVD: Tabu | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Tabu

DVD: Tabu

FW Murnau’s 1931 Tahiti silent masterpiece in restored director’s version

Pursued by destiny: lovers Matahi and Reri struggle to escape the consequences of a decree of the gods

With its story of youthful love entrapped by fate, Tabu relishes the glorious primal energy of the South Seas, which was where German director FW Murnau, best known now for his expressionist Nosferatu, but then recently established in Hollywood and acclaimed for the likes of Sunrise, found himself in 1929. He came along with documentarist Robert Flaherty (Nanook of the North), but what had been planned as a joint project ended up as Murnau’s film; Flaherty shot the opening sequence (including the famous fisherman shot, below right), before handing over cinematography to Floyd Crosby, who would win an Oscar for his work.

Divided into two parts, “Paradise” and “Paradise Lost”, and with full subtitle "A Story of the South Seas", it’s been called a “docu-fiction”, though fiction reigns over docu, something that perhaps went against Flaherty’s instincts (though he remains co-credited for screenplay with Murnau). Elements in part two show the pernicious influence of the outside world on the innocence of native culture – opening inter-titles state that the cast was drawn exclusively from “native-born South Sea islanders” – but first-half development comes from tensions within the structure of that society.

Matahi has wooed his sweetheart Reri (both are credited only under these original names, though Reri would later end up on Broadway, known as Anne Chevalier), and their future looks as idyllic as their island surroundings. That’s until an envoy arrives to claim Reri as the chosen one of the gods, putting paid to that earthly romance. The two flee, fighting their fate to the end, but in vain. It’s all accompanied by a glorious score from Hugo Riesenfeld.

This release from Eureka Entertainment’s “Masters of Cinema” series presents an immaculately restored version of Murnau’s original, making good the cuts and other alterations in both the original Paramount release, and an even more highly-doctored 1948 edit. Extras set the film in full context, including a commentary track from film historians R Dixon Smith and Brad Stevens; a 15-minute German documentary on the film from Luciano Berriatua; and an accompanying booklet with essays and original story treatments. An additional short Drive Hunting in the South Seas, drawn from Murnau’s extensive out-takes, hints at the documentary, more ethnographic element of the project's wider material.

Murnau’s death in a car-crash a week before Tabu’s New York premiere was cinema’s loss indeed, not only of one of the great directors of the silent era: Murnau had just signed a deal for five sound films with Paramount, which would surely have kept him among Hollywood’s top names in the 1930s. Contemporary, if oblique, homage to Murnau's subject and the silent era itself came with Portugese director Miguel Gomes's much-acclaimed film of the same title from last year.

Watch the trailer for Tabu

This release is an immaculately restored version, making good the cuts and other alterations in the Paramount original and 1948 edit


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters