CITY OF GOLD Review
Director: Laura Gabbert
What makes us different from animals? Well… we cook. You might think I’ve retroactively declared myself a Jonathan Gold fanboy after having had the pleasure of viewing Laura Gabbert’s portrait of the cellist-turned-punk-turned-gangsta-rap-critic-turned-foodie himself, but thankfully I always note that I’m a “foodie filmmaker” first and foremost in all of my bios. Now, while in most instances that might not be enough to prove that I know a certain critic, there really isn’t any way to understand Los Angeles’s abundant culinary landscape without reading Gold’s writing. In her character profile of the pulitzer-prize winning critic, Gabbert has carefully crafted a film that goes well beyond elementary portraiture, imbuing her documentary with an ode to the craft of professional criticism and serving as a love letter to the urban sprawl of contemporary Los Angeles.
The mastery of CITY OF GOLD is that it’s a thinly veiled tribute to a metropolis that non-locals oft fail to identify as anything other than a cultural wasteland, a smorgasbord of Hollywood syntheticism and freeway traffic. Presented under the guise of a food critic’s biography, Jonathan Gold’s character is primarily a catalyst for a deeper exploration of a city that can only really be devoured by its countless ethnic neighborhoods. Gold eloquently states that most LA tourists find themselves exploring the city within the 10 minute drive of their Beverly Hills hotel, and with good reason: Los Angeles’s post-modern infrastructure is a unique showcase of a city that doesn’t grow outwards from an urban center, but rather expands from various ethnic melting pots, until collisions become imminent. Thus, Los Angeles is the automobile reliant city we know today, bringing Gold to his thesis that the best way to understand the layers of this community is to explore it through cuisine.
Granted, I can relate to this a little too much for a 22-year-old
And what a way to explore it; CITY OF GOLD is an almost religious consumption of sustenance, and willfully avoids the advertisement of high-brow establishments in favor of the mom and pop joints that have laid the foundations for the dozens of ethnic communities seen in the film, from Ethiopia to Thailand. Outside of Gold’s instantly sympathetic charm, there’s a wealth of empathy to be found in a man who identifies the importance of making or breaking (but mostly making) the businesses of nameless restaurants adjoined to strip malls. Gold’s love for Los Angeles is unparalleled, and his candidness is such a refreshing approach to a profession that many write off as snobbish and inflammatory that this characteristic of Gabbert’s film would be enough to warrant the price of entry.
This love is reciprocated by the countless individuals whose restaurants Gold has saved from bankruptcy through a single positive review. His evocative writing style and self-effacing humor allows for a connection between him and his reader that has helped place him in the pantheon of lovable critics alongside Roger Ebert. Gabbert evenly balances her camera between the food pornography (which just to clarify is about food and not the kind of porn you see on videos hd) and the culinary landscape that Gold has helped create through his writing, and as such she has captured a film about a man’s adoration of a milieu more than a brazen meal tour. CITY OF GOLD never plays out like its contemporaries, CHEF’S TABLE, A MATTER OF TASTE, or even BIG NIGHT and CHEF. Instead, it most closely resembles Matt Mahurin’s I LIKE KILLING FLIES, but even in contrast to that film, Gabbert never prioritizes the investigation of Gold as a figure as much as everything he loves. It’s primarily a film about a character’s source of passion, not their passion in and of itself.
Because “pupusa” is the tastiest word in the dictionary
In an era where Yelp has become the go-to source for food recommendations, CITY OF GOLD serves as a testament to the art of criticism and the virtues of following the suggestions of a writer that’s done their homework. It’s a celebration of the craft of writing, and an amalgamation of vignettes that help carve an outline to a city that many view as an asphalt ocean. It certainly feels absurd to review a film that so openly lauds the significance of academic critique, because Gabbert has inadvertently crafted a picture that plucks every critic’s heartstrings. But CITY OF GOLD wears its heart on its sleeve, and as Gabbert’s journey with Gold will teach viewers unfamiliar with Los Angeles how to best explore this city, she has taught me that I still have a lot to learn as a writer.