A Daughter of the Gods: The lost film

Actor Annette Kellerman stands with her hands on her hips, looking down at a taxidermied crowned crane bird. Annette is wearing a be-jewelled top, skirt and headdress.
A Daughter of the Gods: The lost film
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Annette Kellerman stars as Anitia in the silent film A Daughter of the Gods (Herbert Brenon, USA, 1916).

Regarded as big on spectacle but flimsy on plot by critics at the time, the million dollar film shot in Jamaica was popular with cinemagoers and cemented Kellerman's role as a silent film star.

While we cannot view the extravaganza for ourselves as the film is lost, publicity photos like this one hint at the extravagant costumes and sets. A scrapbook entitled Snaps from Screenland, compiled by actor Vera James in the 1920s from magazine and newspaper clippings, shows publicity stills from the film.

The three-hour epic had a US $1 million budget and reportedly featured 20,000 extras.

The fantasy plot incorporated a sultan, sheik, prince, harem and witch, as well as gnomes, mermaids and hungry crocodiles. Kellerman's Anitia dances before the sultan, escaping imprisonment in a tower by diving 30 metres into the sea. Kellerman performs the dive and all of her own stunts in the film, including being thrown into a pool with six large crocodiles.

In appraising the film, Australian stage magazine The Green Room called Kellerman ‘the greatest woman swimmer in the world, a graceful, creative genius’ whose work ‘in this new spectacular film will leave behind for all time a wonderful record of her daring attainments’.

Notes by Beth Taylor