Video: Century-Old Bermuda Footage Surfaces

March 24, 2013

mermaidShot on location in Bermuda in 1913 and released the following year, the fantasy romance “Neptune’s Daughter” was one of a number of epic silent films that former Australian swimming champion Annette Kellerman [1886-1975] starred in.

Until recently only 19 minutes of the 71-minute film was known to survive. But in 2012 an additional six minutes of footage believed to be from the Gosfilmofond archive in Russia surfaced in the US.

Filmed at various locations around Bermuda — including Agar’s Island, the South Shore beaches and Crystal Caves — “Neptune’s Daughter” was the first of several hugely popular mermaid-themed silent pictures featuring Ms Kellerman.

 ”Not only did director [Herbert] Brenon oversee some of the most elaborate sets ever constructed, but he also reportedly had the seacoast of Bermuda  – where the film was shot — re-designed to suit his purposes!” reported the “New York Times.”

In the film, Ms Kellerman stars as the daughter of King Neptune who vows to avenge the death of her sister who was caught in a fishing net laid by the king of a country above the waves.

However, when granted the power to venture onto land by her father she soon falls in love with the king upon whom she planned to take her revenge.

“Neptune’s Daughter” was based on Annette Kellerman’s own idea of “a water fantasy movie with beautiful mermaids in King Neptune’s garden together with a good love story.”

The film was one of the biggest box office sensations of its day, grossing an estimated $1 million when the average cost of a movie ticket was seven cents.

Hand-coloured still from “Neptune’s Daughter”

neptune

Contemporary reviewers and audiences were every bit as impressed by the exoticism and beauty of the-then unfamiliar Bermuda backgrounds as they were with Miss Kellerman’s charms.

“The scenes are all posed in Bermuda amid the coral reefs and grottoes,” said one critic. “Universal Pictures must believe they have uttered the last word in photoplay art.

“The wondrous beauty of the story, by Captain Leslie Peacock, the enchanting scenes afforded by the Bermuda Islands with their coral reefs … semi-tropic verdure and the vast expanse of wide Atlantic: the company of over 200 actors headed by Miss Kellerman who, aside from marvellous aquatic feats which she has many opportunities to display in this drama, proves that she is also a splendid actress, a graceful dancer, an expert swordswoman and mistress of a hundred arts which contribute to the success of the production: the masterly staging of the drama by Herbert Brenon — all these are factors which help to make ‘Neptune’s Daughter’ a production to be watched with delight and never forgotten.”

Kellerman

“Neptune’s Daughter” was simply “the most marvellous photoplay ever produced” raved a New Zealand critic.

“Not a mere drama produced in studio walls with a cast of from 25 to 50 people, but a magnificent romance with a cast of over 1000 people, and to make which 200 actors and actresses were transported by special ocean liner from America to the Bermuda Islands,” said the reviewer.

When Annette Kellerman  was filming a fight scene with the movie’s director — stunt-doubling for the film’s principal villain – in one of the glass-fronted fish tanks of the old aquarium on Agar’s Island, disaster struck in an incident which made front page new around the world.

“While giving a peformance in the Bermuda aquarium this afternoon, Annette Kellerman, the Australian swimmer, and Herbert Brenon sustained serious injuries owing to the bursting of a glass tank containing eight thousand gallons of water,” said one contemporary news service report. “In one of the scenes, the pressure became too great and the glass front gave way with a crash.

Recently discovered “Neptune’s Daughter” Bermuda footage

“The tremendous rush of water sucked the occupants across the jagged edges of the glass. Miss Kellerman was badly lacerated on the left side, while Brenon was gashed seriously in the arms and legs.

“Brenon was removed to a hospital and Miss Kellerman was taken to the hotel where she was staying.”

The director looked as if someone had “chopped him all over with a hatchet”, Miss Kellerman later recalled. One wound alone, running from his armpit to his wrist, required 46 stitches.

The incident was re-created in the  1952′s “Million Dollar Mermaid”, a lavish MGM Techicolor biopic of Miss Kellerman starring Esther Williams although the location was switched from Bermuda to a Hollywood sound stage.

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