The Nadia Cocktail
Silent movies are, by definition, silent. Well, not exactly. They were intended to have musical accompaniment and, sometimes, even sound effects. However, there was no spoken dialogue. It was supplied by inter-titles relaying not just dialogue but also announcing spans of time, or location, or additional background information. However, there is a gem of a film that uses no inter-titles at all, relying on the visuals alone to tell the story and, oh, what visuals they are!
Menilmontant (1926) is a little French film directed by Russian immigrée Dimitri Kirsanoff and staring his, then, wife, Nadia Sibirskaia, who was actually French and just about the most darling creature ever to be captured on film. In a short thirty-seven minutes, she grows from an adolescent child playing with a kitten to a world-weary woman of the city. Her performance is so trés sympathique one moment and tragic the next you cannot avoid at least a lump in the throat if not outright tears. If you are not moved by this film, you are obviously dead.
We are very lucky that this film has survived, as a vast majority (some estimates say more than 80%) of silent films are forever lost to us through neglect, accident, or the self-destructive nature of the old nitrate film stocks. The year after Menilmontant was filmed, the first “talkie,” The Jazz Singer, was released and proved to be the death knell for silent movies. It is a shame, in a way, because the silent directors were really starting to come into their own. Some of the best films of the silent era were produced between 1925 and 1929. A film like Menilmontant could not have been made in the sound era. The emotional impact relies on its impressionistic visuals and would be ruined by a bunch of superfluous dialogue. Nadia Sibirskaia tugs at your heart not through pathetic speeches, but by her subtle gestures and, most of all, through her eyes.
The following cocktail is dedicated to Miss Sibirskaia and her director-husband. A simple combination of Russian and French ingredients.
1 ½ oz Vodka (Ketel One, Stoli, or your favorite non-flavored vodka)
½ oz Lillet Blanc
2 dashes Lime Juice
2 dashes Lemon Juice
Stir ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.
Vodka has a tendency to argue with vermouth, but with Lillet Blanc, you are pretty safe with a 3:1 ratio. As with any drink containing citrus, adjust to your own tastes, but this drink is not meant to be a sour, so don’t go overboard. Also, strain your juices or you will have unattractive pulp swimming round in your glass. The taste should be subtle and not too heavy in any one direction; soft and simple.
So, raise your glass to our héroïne tragique: Nadia!