This short excerpt from Venus of the South Seas (James Sullivan, USA, 1924) shows Annette Kellerman performing underwater as both a mermaid and a princess.
Kellerman pioneered the art of underwater ballet in her vaudeville shows and in silent films like this one. Her athletic prowess and swimming skill are apparent in her ability to swim with both of her legs bound in a mermaid's tail costume.
For the shots where she is seated it would be easy to believe she wasn't underwater – except the bubbles coming out of her mouth give it away. Kellerman trained herself to remain underwater for an amazing 3 minutes and 20 seconds at a time.
Even from watching the complete film it's obvious that this subplot is included to showcase Kellerman's underwater abilities. It is obvious from the screen time given to them that her impressive underwater feats were a big drawcard for the audience.
The camerawork is basic and static – all the tricks in this sequence belong to Kellerman. The editing too is simple, with cuts between two of the three characters Kellerman plays in the film.
This watermarked excerpt comes from Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision in New Zealand.