“All the things you’re doing now with artificial sets,” Murnau explained to the crew of The Last Laugh, “I shall do one day in a natural one.” This would eventually come to pass with the director’s final film, Tabu (he died in a car accident just a week before its premiere). In sharp contrast to his masterful earlier studio productions, Tabu, based on a story conceived in collaboration with Robert Flaherty, was shot in Tahiti with a primarily local cast. The narrative is famously straightforward, concerning the ill-fated romance of a young couple who flee their homeland when their love is forbidden, and it possesses the enduring, elegant force of a fable. Unencumbered, at last, from the burdens of commercial moviemaking—and Western sexual mores—Murnau found tremendous poetic expression in the simplest images, like the breaking of a wave, or the slice of a blade. 35mm print courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive.
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