The Making of F. W. Murnau's TABU: The Outtakes Edition

TABU – Background and Preparations

After films like NOSFERATU. EINE SYMPHONIE DES GRAUENS (GER, 1922), DIE AUSTREIBUNG (GER, 1923) and the comedy DIE FINANZEN DES GROSSHERZOGS (GER, 1924), Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau’s international career was established with DER LETZTE MANN (GER, 1924). The director signed a contract with the American producer William Fox in January 1925. In the following years, he shot three films in Hollywood: SUNRISE – A SONG OF TWO HUMANS (USA, 1927); 4 DEVILS (USA, 1928); and CITY GIRL (USA, 1930). Although SUNRISE was awarded three “Oscars,” it was not successful at the box offices. Fox Studios demanded compromises from Murnau during the realization of two subsequent films, which led to the final break between the contracting parties at the beginning of 1929.
During the filming of 4 DEVILS, Murnau met the documentary filmmaker Robert J. Flaherty, who had become famous through two films, NANOOK OF THE NORTH (USA, 1922) and MOANA (USA, 1926). Their mutual disappointment over working conditions in Hollywood connected the two. Together, they developed a plan to realize a film in the South Seas based entirely on their own conceptions. Murnau had long since considered sailing to Bali, where his friend, the painter Walter Spies, lived. Flaherty knew the South Seas since production of MOANA and the film WHITE SHADOWS IN THE SOUTH SEAS (USA, 1928), made on Tahiti, in which he was initially involved.
The formation of Murnau-Flaherty Productions took place in March 1929, which soon afterwards found itself aligned with Colorart Productions Ltd., a production company prepared to finance the project of the two filmmakers. The working title of the planned color film was “Turia”; its storyline was based on an idea by Robert Flaherty. The film was to be produced in Technicolor, the latest, leading color motion picture process. All rights for a screen adaptation or a possible theater version were controlled by Colorart. Murnau and Flaherty were obliged to shoot a happy ending in addition to the end of the film they intended. During production, individual scenes were to be laid out with regard to audio dubbing and/or synchronous sound recording in the USA. The Production costs were estimated at $150,000. Additionally, Colorart was to pay $25,000 to the Technicolor company for the use of film and special cameras. Production was to begin on May 11, 1929 and to be completed on November 26, 1929. Moreover, it was agreed that profits from sales should first go to Colorart to cover production costs and that Murnau and Flaherty should only participate in gains that exceeded these costs.
Murnau purchased a two-masted schooner, which he called “Bali,” and he took the captain’s exam. He started for Tahiti from Los Angeles in the spring of 1929; Flaherty set out on his way some weeks later.

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