Calling Jonathan Gold a restaurant critic does not do justice to the man and his importance to Los Angeles and the American culinary scene. He is a cultural anthropologist who uses food as a lens by which to examine the diverse human tapestry of one of the world’s great and misunderstood cities.
Los Angeles is not just Malibu and Hollywood. It is an amalgamation of ethnicities and small neighborhoods, a delicious pastiche of the American Dream writ in sprawl. Gold works as the restaurant critic for the Los Angeles Times, but he could also be considered the city travel guide. His reviews aren’t just about dining, they are about the people behind the food and the story that food tells.
In her enchanting documentary “City of Gold,” Laura Gabbert follows Gold as he investigates the city in his Dodge pick-up truck, agonizes over paragraphs, breaks deadline and celebrates the diversity of the city he loves.
Gabbert had an uphill battle convincing Gold to allow himself to be the subject of a documentary, and the few times the long-haired critic shows slight reticence about the attention, he reveals himself as a modest, humble man. The film does an excellent job of illustrating Gold’s joy and passion for food and the people who elucidate the soul of a city in dishes of fried chicken, steam buns, tacos and haute cuisine.
The editing of the film has a jerkiness at times, as we dip into a family-owned restaurant for a few minutes and then trail into a humorous aside about the state of food blogging, but it gives the movie an organic feel and a casual familiarity that humanizes Gold and his wide-ranging interests and short attention span.
The film doesn’t follow a linear path, which allows for some nice surprises, such as the backstory about Gold’s family life, his passion for art and music and his history as one of the preeminent voices on West Coast hip-hop.
“City of Gold’ is a sweet and charming portrait of a talented man with a big appetite — for food, for people, for Los Angeles. It is an inspiring piece of work and one that makes you realize how lucky the Los Angeles Times is to have the only Pulitzer Prize-winning food writer on its staff and how even luckier the city of Los Angeles is to have someone chronicling and celebrating its diverse culinary wonders.
“City of Gold” screens again Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. at Alamo Slaughter and Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at Alamo South Lamar.