A masterpiece, somewhere between documentary and drama with one of the most overwhelming and breathtaking endings of the silent era.
Tabu depicts the lives of two lovers on a South Seas island until they are forced to escape the island when the girl is chosen as a holy maid to the gods.
The film's story was written by Robert J. Flaherty and F. W. Murnau; with the exception of the opening scene, the film was directed solely by Murnau. The two directors knew each through Flaherty's brother David, and Murnau expressed a desire to make a film in Tahiti with Flaherty who had experience with the natives there. Murnau visited Tahiti in May 1929 and was joined by Flaherty a month later to scout for locations on the nearby island of Bora Bora. While scouting, they found their leading lady, Anne Chevalier, in a local cocktail bar.
The production was originally supposed to be financed by a small production company called Colorart. By September, however, Murnau had only received $5,000 of the due money. After a series of telegrams asking for the rest of the money, Murnau got fed up and decided to fund the film himself. To cut costs, Murnau sent the Hollywood crew home and trained the natives to work as the film crew. He also scrapped plans to shoot the film in colour and changed to black and white. The film's script was rewritten and the title was changed from the original Turia to Tabu: A Story of the South Seas.
The film had its premiere on March 18, 1931, a week after Murnau died, at New York's Central Park Theater. The film was not a box-office success upon release, grossing just $472,000 worldwide, which failed to recoup Murnau and Paramount's investment. At the 4th Academy Awards Floyd Crosby was awarded the Oscar for Best Cinematography.
The film's story was written by Robert J. Flaherty and F. W. Murnau; with the exception of the opening scene, the film was directed solely by Murnau.
Caspervek premiered his first version of their Tabu soundtrack in 2016. The score included, in addition to Caspervek's usual style, the use of traditional Polynesian rhythmic elements and a large number of synthesizers alongside the usual pre-recorded electronics and field recordings used by the band.
In the summer of 2020 Caspevek rewrote their soundtrack for Tabu with a new quintet score (violin, clarinet, piano, two percussionists) which premiered at the Fundación Sales in Vigo in September. The new music made an even more extensive use of traditional percussion instruments (djembe, bombo leguero) and added new dramatic sections in the second act of the film.