CITY OF GOLD is about the transformative power of food and food writing in how we experience where we live. Pulitzer Prize winning critic, Jonathan Gold, is our VIrgilian guide, casting his light upon a vibrant and growing cultural movement, a movement in which he plays the dual roles of high-low priest and culinary geographer of his beloved Los Angeles.
Greetings again from the darkness. "First we eat. Then we do everything else". Filmmaker Laura Gabbert's film kicks off with that quote from MFK Fisher, author of "The Art of Eating". If Ms. Fisher looked at eating as art, then Jonathan Gold views it as a crucial piece of society that brings diverse cultures together.
As the subject of the film, Mr. Gold is a pretty interesting character. Sure, he is a food critic for the LA Times, an author and a Pulitzer Prize winner; but, more than that, he is a man of the streets of Los Angeles, and is described as providing a new vision of the city while also changing the food critic world. He spurns the traditional idea of anonymity that typically cloaks food critics, and mostly ignores the hoity-toity French restaurants for the Taco Trucks and mom & pop joints scattered around LA.
The real core of the story and of Mr. Gold is the cultural diversity that exists within the boundaries of an area that most TV shows and movies would have us believe is sterile, white and rich. The reality is that LA is a conglomerate of cities filled with migrants who have brought their culture, talents and especially their diverse homeland cuisine. Gold relishes the chance to explore every "hole-in-the-wall" taste their food and learn their story. He takes us through Boyle Heights, Hollywood, the San Gabriel Valley and the full 15 mile stretch of Pico Blvd.
As a reporter, Gold struggles with structure and deadlines, but as a writer his words are as tasty as the food of which he writes. In a day where Yelp and Twitter allow everyone to pretend they are an expert, Gold reminds us of the value real critics bring to a topic experience, knowledge and a descriptive way with words.
The film gets a bit loose in the second half as director Gabbert tries to cram in all there is to know about Gold. His background with music: cello, classical, punk, blues and hip-hop probably get more time than is necessary. The contrast with his environmentalist brother is worth it for no other reason than hearing the line: "he is eating everything I'm trying to save".
Gold's legacy will be the culinary map of the region he has created with his work. He encourages us not just to sample new cuisine, but also to better understand the people that make up one of the most diverse and fascinating metropolitan areas in the world. Now how about a taco?!?!
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