A change of climate, a change of palette -- Nanook of the North was a polar Rothko animated by the Eskimo's lifeforce, Robert J. Flaherty's South Seas follow-up is a Gauguin idyll moved by "pride of beauty... pride of strength." Footage comes from a sojourn in Samoa, molded with added "characters": Moana (Ta'avale), betrothed Fa'amgase, and younger brother Pe'a, gathering food for their village feast until they're interrupted by the boar charging out of the bushes, "a big fellow." Elsewhere, the camera gives a slightly high-angled view of the sea, a canoe bobs across the frame diagonally, then re-enters from another side; the fish-spearing sequence is seen through crystalline water, which later turns livid, geysering blow holes seen in long-shot followed by crashing waves, overturning the vessel. A huge sea turtle is wrestled and conquered, bark-cloth is crafted from trees, the meal is prepared, Flaherty catches it all by coming up with the needed stylistics as the occasions arise -- the camera tilts up to take in the height of a palm tree or to follow the boy climbing it, the close-up is reserved for the giant crab smoked out from under a rock and proudly presented to the lens, or, during the tattoo passage, to isolate the visages of the village elders into august studies of their own. John Grierson coined the term "documentary" to describe it in a review, but Flaherty's romantic eye feeds much more exotically on paradisiacal luxuriance than on polar harshness; his manufacturing of mythology is more pronounced here, acknowledged in the recorded performance of the siva dance on the mat (an Ozu shot before Ozu) and in the long tattooing process, exposing the medium's affinity for spectacles of pain only to dissolve it with a transcendental final pan over the sleeping youth fanned by his mother. Bird of Paradise, The Hurricane and Dorothy Lamour stem directly out of it, Tabu is an unofficial sequel, expanded and darkened by Murnau's mysterious sense of tragedy. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce