The Fairy of the Surf

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 1, 2015

Nice tinting, toning, stenciling. The actors look comfortable in their costumes, and in the impressive period settings. We’re moving beyond M. Méliès’ elaborately artificial sets, and as wonderful as those are, it’s very much a positive step. Locations, well utilized, can really provide dramatic leaven—plausibility, authenticity, resonance. There’s a very nice post-wedding parade of aristocrats. This kind of thing isn’t really a variation on Tom Gunning’s now canonical idea of the cinema of attractions, but rather an equivalent to the masque. (Gunning: As with a formerly prevailing negative attitude toward the benshis in early Japanese cinema, it’s tempting or customary to dismiss this kind of thing as a primitive misstep. But why? This works wonderfully, on its own terms.

The situation, the story itself is an interesting variation on the Selkie myth, the difference being that this creature doesn’t give earthly domesticity a try. She’s got to get back now. (Is this due to standard film durations in 1909? They were getting longer. They still weren’t very long. Get to it!) There’s a striking feminist twist here. The man has it her way! Very impressive.