Wednesday, March 02, 2016

“City Of Gold”– Movie Review



This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of the new documentary  “City Of Gold”.


Food critic Jonathan Gold explores obscure restaurants throughout Los Angeles, all the while trying to elevate the city he loves.


As a food critic writing for The Los Angeles Times, Jonathan Gold long ago established himself as not only someone excited by the idea of turning on his reading public to new and delicious food in unlikely places, he also became well known for championing his city – a city in which he has lived for decades.  He has been a cheerleader for small mom-and-pop restaurants just as much as he has been a cheerleader for Los Angeles itself, despite having experienced attempts to destroy it such as the riots that followed the Rodney King arrest in the early 1990’s. 

In his early days with the publication, he was a lowly proofreader; bored in his job, he set out to try to find interesting places to eat throughout the entire stretch of Pico Boulevard.  Eventually, he wrote so enthusiastically about it, Gold earned a job writing reviews for the newspaper.  After putting in many years writing just as passionately about food as he has about the city in which these eateries were located, he eventually won a Pulitzer Prize – a remarkable accomplishment given the fact that the committee had never previously given such an award to a food critic. 

Gold is no snob – he’ll give just as much gravitas to a food truck as he will to a fine-dining restaurant with white linen tablecloth and napkins.  In his mind and palate, they are both equals.  People familiar with Gold’s critiques will provide varied reasons as to why he is so well respected.  Some feel it is because of his innate sense of fairness.   Others maintain it is the fact that he has adventurous taste buds that enjoy a challenge.  There are others still who will staunchly maintain that Gold is driven by his militance for aggressively promoting The City Of Angels.  Regardless of which is true, there’s no denying his success.  


Essentially, the problem with “City Of Gold” as a documentary is that it’s as flat as the Nebraska skyline – without a clear three-act structure of beginning-middle-end, there’s no noticeable dramatic arc.  The film is very episodic, making it extraordinarily difficult to draw in the viewer unless the audience is comprised of fans of Gold who come in with their own preconceived notions;  while Gold may be a cult hero among foodies, chefs and other restaurant critics, those previously unfamiliar with him will be hard pressed to understand just exactly what all of the fuss is about.   Given that Gold’s greatness is through his writing, this is terribly difficult to convey in a motion picture. 

From a technical/stylistic perspective, “City Of Gold” doesn’t exactly break any new ground and we are left with little more than an almost continuous string of talking heads being interviewed about the values of Gold, occasionally interrupted by scenes of Gold joined by friends dining in a number of restaurants for which he has written favorable reviews in the past.  Does Gold cook himself?  When not dining out, what kind of food does Gold cook when he’s home?  Alas, we do not find the answers to these questions – at least, not until the end titles roll.  During the closing credits of the film, we finally see him cooking what appears to be an Italian dish with his family. 

Following the screening, there was a question and answer session with the movie’s director Laura Gabbert and Gold himself.  Gabbert said she first became familiar with Gold through his writing; originally from Minnesota, she read his reviews while living in New York City at the time and found his eloquence about Los Angeles so inspiring that she moved there.  Once in that city, she won an auction where a dinner with Gold was being offered; it was at that point she pitched him the idea for the documentary.  Initially, Gold was not receptive to the concept because he didn’t want to lose his anonymity as a critic; eventually, he came to believe that after so many years in the business, his anonymity had vanished long ago, so he had nothing to lose by doing the documentary.   

City of Gold (2015) on IMDb

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