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The Late Movies: Films by Jem Cohen

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Jem Cohen is one of the pioneers of "experimental" documentary -- or "punk rock" doc, if you prefer -- and has spent his filmmaking career solidly outside the mainstream, working on shoestring budgets, making these very edgy, personal, lyrical films that don't feel quite like anything else out there. Coming up in the 70s and early 80s, one of the reasons he's called "punk rock" so often is that he claims that ethos as an inspiration, but also because he's been associated with a great many musicians and bands, and two of his feature-length films, Instrument and Benjamin Smoke, are portraits of musicians. (Also, each one took ten years to make.)

Given the insanity that's going on politically in our country right now, Cohen's film "Little Flags" might be the most appropriate way to kick things off:

This is a ten-minute excerpt from "Lost Book Found," my favorite film by Jem Cohen, and one I consider something of a personal inspiration. It's so mysterious and mythical and atmospheric, it makes me want to go out and shoot a film right now just thinking about it.

This is an excerpt from Benjamin Smoke, a film ten years in the making, about a radical, gay rock 'n' roller who lived fast and died young, and whose voice has been compared to singers like Tom Waits and Nick Cave and Lou Reed. I dig this song, and I like the ambiance of Smoke's town that Cohen captures.

Speaking of dead rockers, "Lucky Three" is a film of Elliot Smith playing three songs. It's really quite nice.

This is another clip from Benjamin Smoke. Smoke's looking a little rough around the old edges here. He passed away from Hep C in 1999 -- I can't imagine this was shot too many years before he succumbed. Strange, sometimes a-tonal, sometimes beautiful.

This is another Benjamin Smoke song. It's not part of any movie, but I think it's amazing, so ... yeah.

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Vanilla and French Vanilla Ice Cream?
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While you’re browsing the ice cream aisle, you may find yourself wondering, “What’s so French about French vanilla?” The name may sound a little fancier than just plain ol’ “vanilla,” but it has nothing to do with the origin of the vanilla itself. (Vanilla is a tropical plant that grows near the equator.)

The difference comes down to eggs, as The Kitchn explains. You may have already noticed that French vanilla ice cream tends to have a slightly yellow coloring, while plain vanilla ice cream is more white. That’s because the base of French vanilla ice cream has egg yolks added to it.

The eggs give French vanilla ice cream both a smoother consistency and that subtle yellow color. The taste is a little richer and a little more complex than a regular vanilla, which is made with just milk and cream and is sometimes called “Philadelphia-style vanilla” ice cream.

In an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered in 2010—when Baskin-Robbins decided to eliminate French Vanilla from its ice cream lineup—ice cream industry consultant Bruce Tharp noted that French vanilla ice cream may date back to at least colonial times, when Thomas Jefferson and George Washington both used ice cream recipes that included egg yolks.

Jefferson likely acquired his taste for ice cream during the time he spent in France, and served it to his White House guests several times. His family’s ice cream recipe—which calls for six egg yolks per quart of cream—seems to have originated with his French butler.

But everyone already knew to trust the French with their dairy products, right?

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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science
Belly Flop Physics 101: The Science Behind the Sting
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Belly flops are the least-dignified—yet most painful—way of making a serious splash at the pool. Rarely do they result in serious physical injury, but if you’re wondering why an elegant swan dive feels better for your body than falling stomach-first into the water, you can learn the laws of physics that turn your soft torso a tender pink by watching the SciShow’s video below.

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