Tabu (1931): Collaborative Effort from Murnau and Flaherty, Boasting Oscar Winning Cinematography

Winning the Best Cinematography Oscar, Tabu, a lyrical feature of Polynesian life, was unique at the time due to its attempt to mix documentary and fictional elements.

The plot concerns a young girl (Anna Chevalier, a non-professional) who has been consecrated to the gods by her tribe people.  Though it is a “tabu” for her to get married, she falls in love with a handsome pearl fisherman (Matahi).  The island’s holy man takes the girl away in his schooner, and her lover swims after her, but sinks into the ocean.

Shot on location, it was meant to be a collaboration between German director F. W. Murnau and American documentary producer Robert Flaherty.  However, Flaherty withdrew from the project when he realized that the film would have a romantic angle.

Unfortunately, the legendary Hollywood exile Murnau had never lived to see the final product; he was killed in a car accident just before the film’s opening.

Begun as a silent film in 1929, Tabu was released in 1931, despite the fact that talkies had been around.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Cinematography: Floyd Crosby

Oscar Awards: 1

Running time: 82 Minutes.

DVD: September 3, 2002