Narrator: Charles Berling.
Retracing the final months in the life of legendary director F.W. Murnau as he shot the South Seas docudrama “Tabu,” this documentary is an interesting footnote for buffs on the German-gone-Hollywood filmer but assumes a mite too much film knowledge for more general auds. But as a curtainraiser to any showing of the 1931 classic, this item, also available in a 52-minute version, does the job.
French documaker Yves de Peretti has unearthed sufficient period footage and present-day memories from inhabitants of Tahiti and Bora-Bora to give a feel for the pic’s research and shoot. Overlaid with thoughts by Murnau himself (assembled by scholar Bernard Eisenschitz), it adds up to a fascinating glimpse of an obsessive dreamer who (with U.S. filmmaker Robert Flaherty) fled the Hollywood studio system and traveled to French Polynesia in search of an uncontaminated paradise of the Western imagination.
Where the film stumbles is in not supplying enough info about Murnau’s career to place this magnificent folly in perspective. In addition, the dog that doesn’t bark is any mention of Murnau’s homosexuality, possibly a key ingredient in his attraction to the region.
Rather than tell the story straight, Peretti also tries to impose, with only moderate success, a grand tragic scheme on events — that by violating local taboos during filming, Murnau consciously sowed the seeds of his own death, in a car crash before the film opened, in 1931. According to Murnau, the pic was “about the fact that men are driven to create their own tragedies when destiny is too generous with them.”
Clips from “Nosfcratu” are also included, alongside several from “Tabu” itself. Tech quality is fine.