As a critic and general film nerd, it’s important for me to recognize my biases and determine whether my personal proclivities actually line up with a level of objective quality that would accurately convey whether a film is good or not. I think I do a pretty good job most of the time, but walking away from City of Gold I wasn’t quite sure whether I really liked the film as a film, or whether it just spoke to me on a very personal level about the nature of art criticism and the place it holds in modern society. I’m inclined to think that I liked the film because it is actually that entertaining, but feel the need to share that personal connection so that you can gauge for yourself whether my feelings would be reflective of your own.
City of Gold is a documentary about Los Angeles food critic Jonathan Gold, an established member of the West Coast journalistic community who has even won a Pulitzer for his pieces on local cuisine. What makes Gold so special is not only a level of linguistic artistry that I greatly envy, but that he endeavors to find all the little out-of-the-way spots in the city he loves so much, not just the upscale Western-inspired restaurants that one would traditionally find critics pursuing. He is an intriguing individual, but his life and background merely acts as a focal point for a film that is much more reflective of the city rather than the Gold.
Through Gold’s writing and dining experiences, we are introduced to a side of L.A. that we don’t often see in popular cinema. We’re too often exposed to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood as if that is the only part of the city worth discussing, but the city is actually an incredibly diverse amalgam of cultures, featuring a number of people who have emigrated to start culinary enterprises in order to serve those of similar backgrounds. Gold revolutionized the L.A. food scene by focusing on these ghettoed restaurants and encouraging a greater sense of community in the city’s overlapping cultures.
Documentarian Laura Gabbert does an excellent job of making the city of Los Angeles come alive, through interviews with restaurateurs and shots of the city in motion, as well as a light sense of humor that shows the humanity of everyone on screen. The film does focus on Gold’s role in the critical community and primarily follows Gold around in order to see the city as he does, but Gold is humble enough and Gabbert discerning enough to recognize that Gold’s goal through criticism is not to achieve personal notoriety (though he certainly has just by the nature of being a critic), but to present an expertise that will bring his community closer together.
A documentary is always a limited portrayal of whatever subject it chooses, but City of Gold feels very complete in its conveyance of a city through the eyes of one optimistic food critic. This is a film that will make you fall in love with an aspect of a city that you thought you already knew all about, even if you have never been there before. It’s a demonstration of how one person can play a small part in bringing his community together, how his knowledge of the culture and the role that food plays in it can be instrumental in exposing us to our neighbors. That’s an admirable goal as a critic, and one that I relate to in my own minor way by writing on this blog. But even if you aren’t a critic, I think there’s a lot to enjoy here. If nothing else, the loving shots of local dishes are mouth-watering.