“City of Gold” explores the life and works of Jonathan Gold, the revolutionary food critic formerly of LA Weekly and currently of the Los Angeles Times, and his quest to celebrate the multitude of foods, restaurants and cultures in the city he loves.
Directed by Laura Gabbert, the documentary delves into the food scene of the lesser-known communities of Los Angeles. Deliberately avoiding the upscale, touristy restaurants of the city, the documentary shines a light on the city’s most genuine, traditional and authentic cultural food spots. Through this, the documentary offers a unique and refreshing look into the impact of food culture in Los Angeles. Despite a few dull moments throughout the film, the documentary is definitely worth a watch for food aficionados and those interested in the culinary scene of Los Angeles.
The progression of the film is mainly driven by Gold’s experiences at various restaurants and food trucks. Within each segment, interviews with the owners of each establishment emphasize the general appreciation for Gold’s work and the extent to which it has revolutionized the art of food critiques. One food truck owner claimed that Gold is one of the only critics who understands the “tangled webs” inside the minds of cooks, while Ludo Lefebvre, the acclaimed chef and restaurant entrepreneur, praised Gold’s openness “to try new things.”
The story progresses through anecdotes and stories of Gold’s life, including interviews with Gold, his family, friends and fellow food critics and journalists. Perhaps the most interesting of these clips are those in which Gold offers a glimpse into his complicated, yet surprisingly reinvigorating, thought processes. To Gold, food is important because of the connections it creates and the bridges it builds between different cultures and ethnicities. In the documentary, Gold says that, just like a film, food “gives you the illusion of knowing things” about a particular culture. Gold’s ability to look past the aesthetics of a particular establishment and to focus solely on the food gives him an air of fairness and highlights his ability to see beauty in the ordinary.
Jerry Henry and Goro Toshima, the cinematographers of “City of Gold,” provide an exceptional glimpse into everyday life in Los Angeles. They manage to capture aspects of L.A. that most viewers would otherwise never see, bringing the audience along for the ride and providing a slew of images that allow the audience to really get the feel of each community and neighborhood. The cinematography is perhaps one of the most captivating aspects of the film, and it fits well with the overall message.
However, the soundtrack is rather disappointing and mundane. With the exception of a few more satisfying tracks, the music fails to captivate the audience and provide an effective filler to scenes without narration. Considering the importance of music, especially hip-hop, classical and punk-rock, in Gold’s daily life, the soundtrack is lacking. Certain songs connect to the script and the message of the movie, and these songs give the documentary an interesting sense of character. However, most of the music seems to be missing a certain vigor that leaves it sounding more like elevator music than meaningful tracks that connect to the story.
Especially for those not from Southern California, the film extends its most central themes throughout the entire run time, causing it to seem monotonous at certain points. For such viewers, Gold’s message seems vague and even boring at points. “The feel of Los Angeles” is mentioned throughout the movie, but sometimes, this feel remains undefined. Additionally, the central motifs and ideas seem to pile up on each other, and at times, the overall message that Gabbert is trying to convey gets convoluted and lost upon the audience. While the writing in “City of Gold” is definitely strong, at some points, it falls short of capturing the audience’s full attention. As a result, the most captivating parts of the entire film come only in the first half of the film and the last 10 minutes.
Although the writing certainly weakens in the middle, the film is able to pull through at the end and create an all-around satisfying viewing experience. It is certainly not the most entertaining documentary, but it is still a thought-provoking work that is bound to impress those who are interested in food culture and Los Angeles.
Clarification: A previous version of this review referred Gold a writer for LA Weekly. Gold previously wrote for LA Weekly, and currently writes for the LA Times.
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