Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Tabu: A Story of the South Seas


Our friend David Crosby’s father, Floyd, was a cinematographer. The IMDb lists 112 credits for him, from 1931 to 1967. Many if not most of them were for B movies, westerns and horror, and some of my personal favorites from my teenage years, like Beach Blanket Bingo, Bikini Beach, and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini. (Yeah, I know they were awful, and Annette was the teenage Doris Day and Frankie was a stiff, but I liked Eric von Zipper, and anything set in California with a lot of skimpily-clad babes looked okay to me, desperate to get out of small town Texas.) He shot some major films, like Oklahoma!, From Here to Eternity (uncredited, so he must have been the assistant), and High Noon. But the picture he’s remembered for is this one, that was shot in the South Pacific using only people native to the islands. It was co-directed by the great Robert Flaherty, who pretty much invented the documentary all by himself with Nanook of the North, followed later by Man of Aran (both are masterpieces), and F.W. Murnau, a crazy man responsible for Nosferatu. The story is that they couldn’t work well together, and Murnau edged Flaherty out. Whatever. What came out of it is some of the best B&W cinematography ever. (The story is fairly lame, but who cares?) Floyd Crosby won the Oscar for Best Cinematography of 1931, only the fourth Academy Award ceremony. We’ve seen it at Croz’s house. They were smaller back then.

Some critics are down on Flaherty these days because he violated the cardinal rule of documentaries: He staged scenes. Well … hell, there weren’t no rules back then, man! He was making it up as he went along. I’d like to see those critics go out on the ice with Nanook when it’s twenty below, carrying a huge camera and tripod and your precious film, and shoot the walrus hunt. Or go out on a flimsy boat with the men of Aran, and pull in a gigantic basking shark. Yeah, they hadn’t done it for 50 years, and the people of Tabu didn’t live like that, either, but these are all great films.