Blu-ray Review: F.W. Murnau’s TABU – A STORY OF THE SOUTH SEAS


F.W. Murnau (Nosferatu) died days before the release of Tabu: A Story Of The South Seas, a shame because it would have led to a whole new chapter in the German director’s career.

This 1931 film follows the plight of two young lovers in the South Pacific. The pair has an ideal existence but their paradise is shattered when it transpires that she is set to be a holy maid for the gods – she is now Tabu. The lovers take off so that they can stay together, but their paradise is lost forever.

Shot on location in Bora Bora, Tabu is a highly impressive film for its time. The original plan was for Murnau to co-direct the film with documentarian Robert J. Flaherty (Nanook Of The North), but the two men didn’t see eye to eye and Flaherty was sidelined during the production. The film used local islanders in its cast, and it has documentary feel that adds a sense of realism to the onscreen action. However, the composition of the shots is far from happenstance, thought has gone into these images (cinematographer Floyd Crosby won an Academy Award for the film). This restored Blu-ray release helps to highlight this in stunning detail.

Murnau and Flattery were originally going to make a different film and they had already arrived on location when the money fell through. They therefore regrouped and came up with Tabu, which was self-funded by Murnau. It’s an impressive production when you consider the speed of its construction – even more so when you take into account the fact that the actors involved aren’t professional and the film was shot on location.

Tabu: A Story Of The South Seas is as tragic as it is beautiful and as powerful as it is poignant. It’s a shame that F.W. Murnau died before the film’s release. He had intended to shoot more films in Bora Bora and this could have the first step in whole new cinematic journey for the director.

Special Features

The extras on Tabu are splendid and they compliment the film on every level. R. Dixon Smith and Brad Stevens deliver the disc’s commentary. It’s insightful and a touch bumbling, making it the perfect accompaniment for the film – it could have been too stuffy. There’s also 15-minute German documentary that details the film’s production. It’s short, but jam-packed with info. This Bu-ray also comes with out-takes and the short film Treibjagd in der Südsee, which was made using footage that Murnau used for Tabu, but never used. This Masters of Cinema release also comes with a detailed booklet.