Tabu (1931) is a film which inhabits boundaries. The crossing of social and religious barriers drives its plot. Originally conceived as a colour picture, Tabu was released in black and white. Despite appearing four years into the sound era, it is silent, albeit with a synchronised music score. It is a fiction film containing documentary-like sequences, originally conceived as an investigation into the encroachment of modernity onto the traditional Polynesian way of life, but ending up as a melodrama straight from the Hollywood mould. Independently (self-) financed in the first instance, the film was effectively bailed out when Paramount bought the distribution rights. It was planned as a collaboration between two of the most important directors of 1920s cinema, but one took over and the other departed the project; film historians have been arguing about the relative influence of each ever since.
And, saddest of all, Tabu turned out to be the final film made by its credited director, F. W. Murnau, who died following a car crash one week before the film’s New York premiere.