There's not a whole lot to say about HBO's Taxicab Confessions: New York, New York (2005), the cinema verite-style reality documentary. There's not a lot of show for the money: the total running time is something like 67 minutes, including the extra feature, making its $14.95 suggested retail price a bit steep. It's a good show - but where is the rest of the series? After debuting with three episodes in 1995, the series has continued on an irregular basis with about one show per year. One suspects there may be rights issues that have prevented the ten or so earlier episodes from being released to home video, but in any case what's presented here comes off as entertaining but thin.
The show's premise is simple but highly effective: people will open up to a stranger they know they'll never see again - the cabbie - in a way they wouldn't to anyone else save for their closest intimates. Secretly videotaped the driver and his fare, the former prompting the latter with generic conversation-starters like "How's it going for you this evening?" the riders vent their spleen, tell anecdotes about wild sexual encounters, and reveal innermost thoughts about their love lives. (Presumably, the producers have to shoot something like a hundred rides for every one they actually use. At the end of the ride, the taping is explained to the unwitting interview subject, who signs a release allowing his/her image to be used.)
Though potentially cheaply exploitative, Taxicab Confessions is handled with a refreshing humanism lacking in most reality shows. Though many of the vignettes revolve around wild tales of sexual intimacy, even these explore complex relationship issues rarely discussed with any intelligence, if at all, elsewhere on television. A young man describes his problems with a Jewish girlfriend whose mother's constant telephone calls continually interrupted them during intercourse, usually at the height of passion. A gay man and his post-op transsexual girlfriend explain why they prefer their physical relationship to more conventional gay and heterosexual sex.
The racier segments are balanced with other engrossing, sometimes revelatory bits: a woman describes her troubled relationship with a firefighter buried in the collapse of the World Trade Center on 9/11. He survived, but she describes how his psychological scars have put an unbearable strain on their relationship. A lighter segment features a middle-aged couple and the wife's 80-something mother; they amusingly describe how they met their respective spouses.
Though the driver's prompting frequently comes off as a little forced and obvious, the people they talk with seem genuine and usually are quite likeable, and the show's non-judgmental approach works in its favor.
Video & Audio
Taxicab Confessions: New York, New York is presented in a full frame format up to 2005 video standards. (The hidden camera segments are in black and white, with bridging material in color.) The disc is close-captioned, with optional subtitles in English, French, and Spanish, and the 2.0 stereo audio is fine.
The only supplement is two more heretofore unaired taxicab confession segments; each is up to the level of the other segments.
Taxicab Confessions is a good show, well above average for this sort of thing, but the DVD is a disappointment only because it offers what amounts to just one show. Still, what's there is often interesting and entertaining, so the disc comes Recommended.
Film historian Stuart Galbraith IV's most recent essays appear in Criterion's new three-disc Seven Samurai DVD and BCI Eclipse's The Quiet Duel. His audio commentary for Invasion of Astro Monster is now available.