by Natalie Whalen, Staff Writer
“City of Gold” is much more than it sets out to be. In her new documentary centered on Los Angeles Times food critic Jonathan Gold, Laura Gabbert uncovers the life of an unassuming subject whose work and impact reaches farther than one might initially assume. The film grapples with the greater implications of Gold’s influence, which deal with far more just food.
Gabbert depicts Los Angeles through Gold’s eyes—a native to the sprawling, multiracial metropolis. Through his writing and his person, Gold describes a beautiful “mosaic” of culture and opportunity that he has been lucky to call home in his lifetime. For those who call Los Angeles home, the film is an ode to what they love about the Southern Californian city; for those who don’t, it is a powerful introduction about why its inhabitants hold it dear to their hearts.
What’s truly interesting about the film however are the deeper truths about Gold’s way of being—how his past and present have collided to create his magical success. As we learn more about Gold, the film begins to wade into the topics of diversity, writing and criticism, culture and good will.
The most intriguing lens through which we see Gold is through music (much of which is originally composed for the film). Before Gold was a food writer, he wrote about Los Angeles hip-hop during its rise. Even before that, however, Gold was a UCLA cellist turned punk-rocker—truly exemplifying a principle that many have attributed to Gold’s food writing: investigation before contempt.
Gold is known for his ability to look beyond the exterior—naming food trucks and hole-in-the-wall restaurants as some of his favorite city digs. He is never prejudiced because a food sounds off-putting; he’s been known to try a new establishment 17 times before writing a review. Through his reviews, Gold reflects a remarkable ability to accept and appreciate diversity. Countless times, Gold has rescued families with a positive review, establishing the power of the pen.
The film was particularly engaging for its commentary on criticism. Gold’s mastery comes dually from his open-mindedness and his faith in experience.
For writers and fans of culture alike, it is impossible not to relate to Gold’s attempts to create a bond between himself and his readership through their mutual love for food, music, art, and the city of angels.
“City of Gold” is a triumph overall—however, it definitely caters to its audience. Although its lessons are universal, it may evade those who are less familiar with Gold’s passions. Gabbert doesn’t follow a specific timeline, which may leave the audience a bit disoriented, as well. Regardless, there seems little room for omission—each scene feels calculated in how it adds to Gold’s biography.
“City of Gold” is playing at the IFC Center.