2015, Movies

City of Gold (2015, Laura Gabbert)

This is a fascinating and affecting portrait of famous LA food critic Jonathan Gould, someone I had just learned about on the most recent season of Top Chef. (Or, at least, this is when I remember hearing about him for the first time.) Think of it as a New Yorker profile but in a movie.

I didn’t really understand why a food critic would be revered until watching this film. What I didn’t understand is that Gold was part of a wave of food critics – though hardly the first critic – to focus on ordinary restaurants (such as those in mini malls). It also helps that it seems like he was an absolutely fantastic writer.

The documentary is pretty typical, lots of shots of Gold driving around, some staged conversations that are kind of awkward, a soundtrack of the music Gold used to write about when he was a music critic, and tons of footage of LA. But Gold’s reviews narrate much of the film and there is tons of footage of yummy- and weird-looking food.

I have spent very little time in LA – not much at all in LA proper – but this film does a very good job of making us want to do a food tour. At least from this film’s telling, LA seems like it might even be more diverse than Toronto, and the options seem endless. It helps that Gold is pretty passionate about his city and I would say that, in addition to making me like him, this works as a pretty good piece of tourism for the city. (At least if you like to eat weird food.)

Like many documentaries of this ilk, it’s very one-sided. The point is that we appreciate him, not know everything about him. And it is occasionally clunk, such as the section on “Maggot Brain” (the song, not some esoteric dish) which feels forced. But it’s still interesting and really makes me want to eat some food. Also, Gold’s reading of a piece he wrote about the riots in 1992 is a moving coda for how much he loves the city.

Good stuff.


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