With all the madness of Hollywood converting to sound, silent masters F.W. Murnau (Sunrise) and Robert Flaherty (Nanook of the North) escaped to the South Seas, where they collaborated on this tale of adventure, culture clash, and forbidden love, starring natives of the islands.
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Murnau died a week before Tabu premiered, and who knows how he would've adjusted to sound? He didn't even like using title cards, let alone dialogue. But he was a master of archetypes, and what a visual wonder Tabu is. The composition and movement make the frame feel teeming with life. Pre-modern superstition and a modern economy both have their strict rules—be careful trying to defy them.
Cinematography by Floyd Crosby. "Desire" list: Matahi is his name and was immortalized in this film, and i wonder how much Murnau liked him because he makes us enjoy him immensely, by an absolutely telluric way in which his body and face are filmed, in erotic exponentiation.
At first glance a straightforward, kitsch take on innocent natives frollicking in their South Sea paradise, it develops into a striking condemnation of a shambling and joyless patriarchal system, personified by the zombie (and Orlok)-like Hitu. The U.K. Masters Of Cinema release comes highly recommended, especially with its excellent commentary track.
After I finished watching, I felt the same way as when I watced L'atalante. You just can't help but wonder what other masterpieces might have seen the light of day if Vigo and Murnau had not died so young.
Incredible. Thank you, MUBI, for bringing us a film I didn't even know existed. The plot is a magnificent conflict between community-oriented living with its lack of emphasis on individual wants, and "modern" free market society with its emphasis on individual achievement. Beautiful cinematography. A great lesson in how much dialogue is superfluous. Running barefoot on those volcanic rock beaches takes tough soles!
Great movie, beautifully shot with a fun and fitting sound track. Love and beauty in the tropics, with waterfall frolics, pearls, sharks and flowers galore. With the fearsome tabu running underneath the whole time.....What's gonna happen? More paradise? Or peril..... Watch and see!
Murnau has such a command over his images, be it for a complicated story or a simple story, he knows exactly what to do at each moment to give his films the appropriate richness (Sunrise is another example, and Faust, well, that transcends critique being so perfectly detailed..). Murnau is someone I want to dedicate my film life to studying, he will most assuredly point me in the correct direction as I grow.