New York, New York ★★★★½

Despite being something of a Scorsese obsessive in my younger years, I kept giving NEW YORK, NEW YORK (1977) a miss, both because of the bad reviews it had been saddled with and my general antipathy to musicals. What an error. For, truly, this is the TAXI DRIVER of American musicals, the tale of a dysfunctional romantic and professional relationship between a volatile primitive narcissist jazz-saxophonist (played with obnoxious and at times terrifying intensity by Robert De Niro) and a confident-but-long-suffering über-talented pop singer (played with great complexity by Liza Minnelli).

Mixing jazz standards and new songs by Kander & Ebb — including the legendary theme song — Scorsese at once recreates the stylised look and feel of classic musicals and the emotional rawness of the best of American cinema of the 1970s. Watching the full version (a pared-back cut was released after initial box office failure, missing much of the film-within-a-film sequence near the end) I thought this was just about flawless as a study of two individuals seeking artistic success while weighed down by their own flaws, alongside the possibility of personal growth rather than just stasis. When Minnelli’s character sings the title song near the end she not only owns it, it is profoundly meaningful to her character and the story.

If there is one flaw in this difficult-to-watch but brilliant film it’s that Minnelli’s initial attraction to De Niro is not entirely convincing, but as they settle into co-dependency all the moves ring true, which makes it all more believable.

Watching this now it is hard not to compare it with LA LA LAND (2016), which has a similar central theme and structure, but which seems no more than a pale shadow of this along every dimension, a limp and shallow exploration of potentially profound material, without the talent to recreate what made the best musicals work as musicals.