Tabu


1h 25m 1931

Brief Synopsis

A Tahitian pearl fisher falls in love with a woman branded untouchable by his tribe.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Adventure
Release Date
Mar 19, 1931
Premiere Information
New York premiere: 18 Mar 1931
Production Company
Golden Bough, Inc.
Distribution Company
Paramount Publix Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Tahiti, French Polynesia

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 25m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
7,383ft

Synopsis

In 1929 on the island of Bora Bora, which is still untouched by the hand of civilization, young lovers Matahi and Reri frolic in a waterfall. The islanders then run to greet Tabu, an envoy from the Chief of Fanuma, who has come to name Reri the successor to the island's sacred virgin. When the heartbroken Reri is brought before Tabu, he decrees, "Man must not touch her or cast upon her the eye of desire...from this time forth she is tabu. To break this tabu means death." The natives stage a celebration in Reri's honor in which they dance and play music, and then she sails away with Tabu. When Matahi then kidnaps Reri, however, the islanders fear the power of the tabu will fall upon them. If found unchaste, Reri will be sacrificed and Matahi and Tabu will die. Near starvation, Matahi and Reri travel in a canoe through storms to the "land of the white man." There, the couple celebrates with the islanders until the local government demands their arrest to keep peace among the islands. While Matahi charms the policeman into letting them stay, a diver defies a mandate which forbids diving in the pearl-rich seas because the natives believe they are guarded by a man-eating shark, and is indeed killed by a shark. Later, in her room, Reri receives a letter from Tabu stating she has three days to return to him or Matahi will die. Unaware of Tabu's demands, Matahi plans to buy tickets for the schooner Hinano , which is scheduled to arrive in two days. Matahi then learns of his debt to Kong Ah, the barkeeper, and slips out in the night to search for pearls. While he is away, Reri writes her farewell note to Matahi saying "the tabu is upon us." Matahi barely escapes the jaws of the shark and returns home to find his lover missing. Desperate, Matahi swims to Tabu's boat and drowns.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Adventure
Release Date
Mar 19, 1931
Premiere Information
New York premiere: 18 Mar 1931
Production Company
Golden Bough, Inc.
Distribution Company
Paramount Publix Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Tahiti, French Polynesia

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 25m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
7,383ft

Award Wins

Best Cinematography

1931

Articles

Tabu - New on DVD - Tabu: A Story of the South Seas - Now on DVD


A few years before the release of Tabu (1931), famed German director F.W. Murnau wrote, "Real art is simple, but simplicity requires the greatest art." Deceptively simple, Tabu is an artistic rarity of world cinema, not only in its un-Hollywood narrative style, structure and pace, but also as an early venture of risky, independent filmmakers out to make their own kind of picture, unfettered by Hollywood money. Tabu represents an unusual and seldom repeated collaboration between two heavyweight filmmaking giants, director F.W. Murnau [Nosferatu (1922), Sunrise (1927)] and documentarian and adventurer Robert Flaherty [Nanook of the North (1922)]. Along with Charles Chaplin's Modern Times (1936), their film is one of the silent cinema's late masterpieces.

Long unavailable in uncut, uncensored form, Milestone has produced a crystal clear DVD transfer of a gorgeous example of Academy Award-winning black and white photography at its finest, telling the colorful story of two lovers doomed by spiritual and cultural rigidity.

The extras include the original theatrical trailer, told without dialogue, in the spirit of the movie itself; an extensive photo montage with pictures from the production and images of the script and various telegrams sent between the Bora Bora locale and the U.S. mainland. (The documents as presented are rather inconsequential so if you don't have a jumbo television or a zoom feature on your DVD player, you will need a magnifying glass to read them.)

On the plus side, Milestone has succeeded where other DVD producers have failed in taking full advantage of classic film outtakes. Instead of presenting Murnau, Flaherty and company's copious outtake footage (courtesy of the Deutsches Filminstitut-DIF Filmarchiv) in a flat, slap-dash fashion, Milestone has supplied a commentary track by UCLA film professor Janet Bergstrom. Her running commentary details Murnau and Flaherty's shooting methods, aborted business deals with Colorart and Technicolor, and the deterioration of the two master filmmakers' working relationship during the course of production. And that's just for the outtakes section. Bergstrom also provides multifaceted insight for the feature, delving into Murnau and Flaherty's careers up to production of Tabu, their individual strengths and weaknesses as filmmakers inside and outside the Hollywood system, and the crucial input of director of photography Floyd Crosby (father of rock 'n roll musician David Crosby). In addition to not addressing censorship issues that affected Tabu, Bergstrom's feature commentary often falls into the familiar trap of reciting the action on screen. However, she usually offers some critical interpretation of the shot or scene, and often draws subtle parallels to Flaherty's and especially Murnau's previous work.

Newcomers to Tabu will marvel at the strictly non-professional acting ensemble, many of whom were natives to Tahiti. Both the leading players, Anna Chevalier and Matahi, were novices to performing, let alone silent movie acting, yet their performances are understated and genuine. Chevalier later adopted the name "Reri Chevalier" once she became a celebrity in the United States and Europe after the international release of Tabu in spring 1931. Her experiences after Tabu are recounted in another well-produced supplement, the touching short film "Reri in New York." The footage is of unknown origin, but it appears to be some sort of screen test of a slightly older Reri, walking through a picturesque part of New York City. Bergstrom recounts Reri's tours through Europe, her brief appearance in another Polynesian play, director John Ford's The Hurricane (1936), and her eventual return home. Reri's startling and unpredictable performance in Tabu is akin to Renee Marie Falconetti's in The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), as is her slide into cultural obscurity.

For more information on Tabu, visit the distributor's web site at Image Entertainment, Inc.. To purchase a copy of Tabu, visit Movies Unlimited.

by Scott McGee
Tabu - New On Dvd - Tabu: A Story Of The South Seas - Now On Dvd

Tabu - New on DVD - Tabu: A Story of the South Seas - Now on DVD

A few years before the release of Tabu (1931), famed German director F.W. Murnau wrote, "Real art is simple, but simplicity requires the greatest art." Deceptively simple, Tabu is an artistic rarity of world cinema, not only in its un-Hollywood narrative style, structure and pace, but also as an early venture of risky, independent filmmakers out to make their own kind of picture, unfettered by Hollywood money. Tabu represents an unusual and seldom repeated collaboration between two heavyweight filmmaking giants, director F.W. Murnau [Nosferatu (1922), Sunrise (1927)] and documentarian and adventurer Robert Flaherty [Nanook of the North (1922)]. Along with Charles Chaplin's Modern Times (1936), their film is one of the silent cinema's late masterpieces. Long unavailable in uncut, uncensored form, Milestone has produced a crystal clear DVD transfer of a gorgeous example of Academy Award-winning black and white photography at its finest, telling the colorful story of two lovers doomed by spiritual and cultural rigidity. The extras include the original theatrical trailer, told without dialogue, in the spirit of the movie itself; an extensive photo montage with pictures from the production and images of the script and various telegrams sent between the Bora Bora locale and the U.S. mainland. (The documents as presented are rather inconsequential so if you don't have a jumbo television or a zoom feature on your DVD player, you will need a magnifying glass to read them.) On the plus side, Milestone has succeeded where other DVD producers have failed in taking full advantage of classic film outtakes. Instead of presenting Murnau, Flaherty and company's copious outtake footage (courtesy of the Deutsches Filminstitut-DIF Filmarchiv) in a flat, slap-dash fashion, Milestone has supplied a commentary track by UCLA film professor Janet Bergstrom. Her running commentary details Murnau and Flaherty's shooting methods, aborted business deals with Colorart and Technicolor, and the deterioration of the two master filmmakers' working relationship during the course of production. And that's just for the outtakes section. Bergstrom also provides multifaceted insight for the feature, delving into Murnau and Flaherty's careers up to production of Tabu, their individual strengths and weaknesses as filmmakers inside and outside the Hollywood system, and the crucial input of director of photography Floyd Crosby (father of rock 'n roll musician David Crosby). In addition to not addressing censorship issues that affected Tabu, Bergstrom's feature commentary often falls into the familiar trap of reciting the action on screen. However, she usually offers some critical interpretation of the shot or scene, and often draws subtle parallels to Flaherty's and especially Murnau's previous work. Newcomers to Tabu will marvel at the strictly non-professional acting ensemble, many of whom were natives to Tahiti. Both the leading players, Anna Chevalier and Matahi, were novices to performing, let alone silent movie acting, yet their performances are understated and genuine. Chevalier later adopted the name "Reri Chevalier" once she became a celebrity in the United States and Europe after the international release of Tabu in spring 1931. Her experiences after Tabu are recounted in another well-produced supplement, the touching short film "Reri in New York." The footage is of unknown origin, but it appears to be some sort of screen test of a slightly older Reri, walking through a picturesque part of New York City. Bergstrom recounts Reri's tours through Europe, her brief appearance in another Polynesian play, director John Ford's The Hurricane (1936), and her eventual return home. Reri's startling and unpredictable performance in Tabu is akin to Renee Marie Falconetti's in The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), as is her slide into cultural obscurity. For more information on Tabu, visit the distributor's web site at Image Entertainment, Inc.. To purchase a copy of Tabu, visit Movies Unlimited. by Scott McGee

Quotes

Trivia

This film was selected to the National Film Registry, Library of Congress, in 1994.

The film was censored upon release to remove nudity involving natives on the island.

Notes

The title card of this film contains the subtitle, "A Story of the South Seas." The opening of the film states: "Only native-born South Sea islanders appear in this picture, with a few half-castes and Chinese." The title of F. W. Murnau and Robert Flaherty's story was "Turia." Murnau and Flaherty reportedly left for Tahiti with Hollywood actress Lotus Long, but when Colorart, the film's financial backer, went bankrupt in the 1929 stockmarket crash, Murnau decided to finance the film himself and use an all-native Polynesian cast. A Motion Picture Herald review says Murnau selected "lovely Polynesian half-breeds delectably beautiful and white enough to appeal to any American audience taste." This film was shot on Bora Bora and Takapota Islands in Tahiti, where Murnau and Flaherty spent eight months in production. The film was shot silent, with music and subtitles added later. According to a contemporary source, Murnau directed Reri and Matahi in French. Jean, who plays the part of the policeman, was the interpreter for the rest of the cast. He later went on to play the Tahitian chief in M-G-M's 1935 film Mutiny on the Bounty. Reri, later known as Anna Chevalier, became a successful dancer in the Ziegfeld Follies and in New York nightclubs. After marrying a nobleman in Poland, and making a picture in Europe, she returned to the islands to live. Floyd Crosby won an Academy Award for Cinematography for this film. Hollywood Reporter credits "Robert Folsey" with photography, although this is probably a mistaken reference for Robert Flaherty, whom some modern sources credit with co-photography. On March 11, 1931, the night he completed work on the assembly of Tabu, Murnau was killed in a car accident near Santa Barbara, CA. Murnau was buried in Berlin.
       Film scholars disagree over Flaherty's contribution to this film. His brother David wrote a modern account of the rift that occurred between Murnau and Flaherty during the film's production. According to David Flaherty, "Murnau made a Murnau picture there." In his biography of Murnau, Seymour Stern said that in 1948 Theodore Huff falsified history by giving a split director credit to Murnau and Flaherty. According to Stern, the original scenario was jointly written by Murnau and Flaherty, but Flaherty's contribution was less than five percent of the total script and was mostly unusable. A modern source states that Paramount was prepared to offer Murnau a ten-year contract in anticipation of the success of Tabu. Another modern source states that, according to Upton Sinclair, Murnau spent $135,000 making the film, in accordance with his contract with Paramount, which specified that if he made the initial outlay of cash, he would receive fifty percent of the film's net box-office profits. The source also indicates that the film's musical score cost $9,000, and the film ran fourteen weeks at the Central Park Theatre in New York. In 1952, Variety reported that re-issue rights for this film were acquired by Manor Films. The film's copyright was renewed July 31, 1959 by Samuel G. Brown, the legal owner of the posthumous work of Murnau. Brown shared ownership of Tabu with his brother Rowland, an American director.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1931

Released in United States 1996

Released in United States March 1977

Re-released in United States 1948

Re-released in United States April 5, 1991

Re-released in United States December 9, 1991

Re-released in United States January 28, 1991

This is the last film of director F W Murnau.

Formerly distributed by Paramount Pictures.

Selected in 1994 for inclusion in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.

Released in United States 1931

Re-released in United States 1948 (edited version)

Released in United States 1996 (Shown in New York City (Goethe House) as part of program "Picturing Paradise" March 5 - April 13, 1996.)

Re-released in United States January 28, 1991 (San Francisco)

Released in United States March 1977 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Treasures from UCLA Archives) March 9-27, 1977.)

Re-released in United States April 5, 1991 (restored version; New York City)

Re-released in United States December 9, 1991 (Film Forum 2; New York City)