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Channel 13’s efforts to gain wider recognition for independent New York-based filmmakers with its Reel New York series are unassailable, but a surfeit of bland virtue and go-team earnestness encumbers many of the shorts chosen for the eight-week program (Fridays at 10 p.m., starting June 9). The uniformly Handi-Cam’d docs variously comprise well-intentioned but condescending history lessons (slave-trade storytelling in Take Your Bags, part of the “Culture Crossings” program on June 16), frightful ethno-tourism (A Finn in Harlem, also June 16), and grating, aimless visits with “characters” (a grieving dowager in Solo-Me-O and two bickering brothers in The Gorilla and the Piker, both part of “Family Matters” on July 21).
The fiction shorts make for an uneven but more colorful lot, brightened by the deceptively light-touched 1991 festival prizewinner Time Expired (June 9), which follows a just-paroled married guy who has fallen for a transvestite (John Leguizamo) in prison, to the distress of his wife (a superb Edie Falco). The best fun to be had in Reel New York is during July 14’s “The Beat Goes On” program, which unearths the buoyant 1966 short The Existentialist, about a nattily dressed perambulator who doesn’t much mind that everything in New York, including people and cars, moves backward except for him. (The pleasure of watching this goofy jaunt doubles when you think what a hoot it must have been to make.) Also airing is the deeply batty Lower East Side valentine Pull My Daisy, from 1959, which hangs out with a bunch of Beats including Allen Ginsberg while they drink, smoke, talk shit, and generally do very little as frenetically as possible while sitting around a salon-like loft on the Bowery. Pull My Daisy was written and narrated by Jack Kerouac, who, between supplying all the voices for the characters, occasionally segues into life-affirming soliloquies: “Melted-cheese cockroaches . . . Peanut-butter cockroaches . . . Cockroach! Cockroach! Cockroach of the eyes! Cockroach, mirror, boom, bang, hmm, Freud, Jung.”