Classic Films

Tabu (1931) F. W. Murnau, Director – 01:21:00

Tabu is a 1931 film directed by F.W. Murnau. The film is split into two chapters, the first called “Paradise”, 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 second chapter, “Paradise Lost”, depicts the couple’s life on a colonized island and how they adapt to and are exploited by Western civilization. The title of the film comes from the Polynesian concept of tapu (spelled tabu in Tongan before 1943), from which is derived the English word “taboo.”

The film’s story was written by Robert J. Flaherty and F.W. Murnau; and with the exception of the opening scene, the film was directed solely by Murnau. This was his last film; he died in the hospital after an automobile accident on March 11, 1931, a week before the film’s premiere in New York.

Cinematographer Floyd Crosby won an Academy Award for Best Cinematography for his work on this film. In 1994, Tabu was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.