The last film of F.W. Murnau (1931, 82 min.), probably the greatest of all silent directors (he didn’t live long enough to make sound films, dying in an auto accident only a few days after work on the synchronized musical score for this masterpiece was completed). Filmed entirely in the South Seas in 1929 with a nonprofessional cast and gorgeous cinematography by Floyd Crosby, this began as a collaboration with documentarist Robert Flaherty, who still shares credit for the story, though clearly the German romanticism of Murnau predominates, above all in the heroic poses of the islanders and the fateful diagonals in the compositions. The simple plot is an erotic love story involving a young woman who becomes sexually taboo when she is selected by an elder to replace a sacred maiden who has just died; an additional theme is the corrupting power of civilization. The exquisite tragic endingconceived musically and rhythmically as a gradually decelerating diminuendois one of the pinnacles of silent cinema. 82 min. (JR)

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