Moana (1926)

Moana (1926)

“The deepest wisdom of the race has said that manhood shall be won through pain.”

A Polynesian youth named Moana prepares to marry his mate by undergoing a series of rituals.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Documentary
  • Native Peoples
  • Robert Flaherty Films
  • Silent Films

Robert Flaherty’s commissioned follow-up to his groundbreaking documentary Nanook of the North (1922) was this similarly episodic look at the lives of natives in a land still largely free from Western influences. As with Nanook, Flaherty took great liberties with his storyline, deliberately recruiting actors to play family members, and requesting that a painful, lengthy, recently outdated tattooing ritual be revived for the purposes of filming. Overall, Moana remains a less fulfilling documentary than Nanook, primarily because of a problem Flaherty himself hadn’t anticipated: the Polynesians weren’t engaged in the same kind of man-against-nature survival tactics as their Arctic counterparts. Indeed, their only “enemy” appears to be wild boar. While it’s fun to see Moana and his brother spearfishing and shimmying up coconut trees, and women neatly creating fabric from pulp, these isolated scenes in and of themselves don’t create much dramatic tension. F.W. Murnau’s overtly fictional Tabu (1931) offers a much more nuanced variation on the same theme, and is my recommended pick as “must-see” instead.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • An intriguing (albeit semi-fictionalized) look at Polynesian culture

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look simply for its historical status as one of Flaherty’s earliest films. Listed as a film with Historical relevance and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.


One thought on “Moana (1926)

  1. Not a must. First viewing.

    In absolute agreement with the review here. ‘Moana’ may have had some impact on release, as a unique peek into a little-known world. But it is very much over-shadowed now by the similar and much more successful ‘Tabu’.

    I did learn that the knee is the most painful place to get a tattoo – though I suppose that would seem fairly obvious; I just never thought about it. ~not that I’ve been thinking of getting a tattoo, anywhere.

    Mild caution: You will see a naked butt and some naked breasts. So…recommended for mature audiences. 😉

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