A Real Taste Of Los Angeles
Most films set in LA show off the flashy stuff. Ingénues step off the bus to find bright blue skies and sunshine beaming down on beautiful people. Even the recent Nightcrawler, a dive into the seedy side, featured fancy cars and high-profile careers and dreamers scratching their way to the top.
City of Gold is the first LA-based film I’ve seen that looks like the place I’ve been living in and experiencing since I got here. L.A. Weekly food critic Jonathan Gold drives around in his old pickup truck, combing the streets for dining experiences others miss. Strip malls lined with Korean and Spanish restaurant titles, lanes of old asphalt prettied up with random palm trees, pedestrians and bus riders and church goers of all shades and accents hanging out by taco trucks—this is the LA that Gold lives in.
The first and last time we hear Gold speak, he tells us how much he loves his city and the patchwork of cultures randomly stitched together to create it, and the documentary spends just as much time on that love as it does on his culinary interests. Gold has a discerning palate, but also an endlessly curious one, and unlike a lot of us critics in other areas, he seems to lack any appetite for writing scathing reviews. He points out one place that he thinks is awful, just so we don’t think he loves everything, but even then the filmmakers don’t show us which place he’s talking about.
The filmmakers also include a handy map that lights up the area or neighborhood Gold is about to visit, and then zooms in to follow his story. This is important not just for orienting us in a physical space, but also for showing us how Gold’s writing encompasses more than what’s on his plate. His reviews tell his readers about the history of the food, the people who prepared it, the culture that manifested it, the neighborhood where the families who congregated there live and thrive. As the many interviewees in the documentary describe him, Gold is as much a writer of culture and history as he is of food, showing us how any art form tells the story of the people who created it, beyond the story they even realized they were telling.
Honestly, I think if I’d met Gold in person before seeing this documentary, I’d have thought he was a weirdo and tuned him out. And he is a weirdo, but the best kind—one whose soft-spoken but eloquent eccentricity encourages us to sample more of the world and the people living in it than we’d otherwise bother to think about in our everyday lives. My L.A. isn’t all that flashy, but through the eyes and words of Jonathan Gold, it is human.
After eight months of living here, I finally feel like someone’s introduced me to the city.