Review: ‘America Undercover Taxicab Confessions’

Like barbers and bartenders, taxi drivers can become a person's confidante, if only for a few minutes. Documentarian brothers Joe and Harry Gantz installed audio and video equipment in several Gotham cabs, secretly taping conversations between more than 600 people and their drivers over a period of four weeks. If the samples here are typical of what cabbies encounter every day, it's no wonder many don't bother to learn English.

Like barbers and bartenders, taxi drivers can become a person’s confidante, if only for a few minutes. Documentarian brothers Joe and Harry Gantz installed audio and video equipment in several Gotham cabs, secretly taping conversations between more than 600 people and their drivers over a period of four weeks. If the 11 samples here are typical of what cabbies encounter every day, it’s no wonder that many don’t bother to learn English. Every one of them should have their vehicle steam-cleaned, inside and out, after every fare.

Final selection (participants signed releases after the fact) tends toward the kind of material that induces people to pay for cable or watch Richard Bey’s show: sex, violence and salty language.

The 11 segments include one transsexual, one prostitute and a cop who regales his driver with a lurid description of a person who’s been hit by a train.

Two male French tourists discuss how American girls are more, um, agreeable than the women back home; a biker type tells of nearly killing a man who stole some money from a grieving widow; a young women goes on and on about body piercing; a homeless man explains how he came to be that way.

If the Gantz brothers found any stockbrokers, politicos or suburbanites on their way to a Conan O’Brien taping, that footage remains in the editing room.

One female driver seems to make a practice of cruising clubs with a gay clientele, and goes to some lengths to lead a lesbian to proposition her. Other cabbies attempt to draw their clientele out, with at least some questions provided by the producers via concealed earphones (to the body piercer: “If you don’t mind me asking, what’s the point?”).

That said, the hour provides a fascinating bit of voyeurism, and should do wonders to discourage New York tourism. Other than the countless miles of videotape that must have been used, most interesting aspect of show is the (in context) stunning photography, via several lipstick-sized cameras.

There’s one good laugh, when a driver tells his fare, “I’ll take you there as quick as possible; that’s what taxicabs are for”; and one scary moment, when the policeman confides, “That’s the best thing about being a cop — they let you carry a gun.”

America Undercover Taxicab Confessions

(Sat. (14), 10-11 p.m., HBO)

Production

Taped in New York City by View Film & Video. Executive producer, Sheila Nevins; produced, directed by Joe and Harry Gantz; technical director, Mitchel Wagenberg.

Crew

Editors, Sean-Michael Connor, John T. Davis, Jim Kosub, Mark Raudonis; sound, Paul Schremp; music, Larry Cohn.

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