I’m no gourmand. I’m not even a foodie. I mean, I like food, and I like food that tastes good better than food that tastes bad. But when I watch documentaries about thousand-dollar sushi or modernist Danish restaurants, I can be a tough crowd. When it comes to fetishes and porn, my favorite kinds don’t come prefixed by ‘food-.’
And there have been nearly as many food-porn movies in recent years as there have been actual sex-porn movies. All this preface is my excuse for not getting around to watching “City of Gold,” the documentary profile of Los Angeles Times food writer Jonathan Gold, until now. My mistake. This is a movie that’s about food, yes, but also a fascinating human and the infinitely diverse metropolis he calls home.
I’d never heard of Jonathan Gold before I learned about this film. (See, not a foodie.) But he is apparently one of the key figures in shifting the focus of restaurant reviews from white-linen French bistros to taco carts and strip malls. If it feels like a cliché now to say that you can always find the best ethnic food (whatever that means) in sketchy, linoleum-encrusted outposts, it’s because Gold shined a light on neighborhood Korean barbecue joints and Iranian cafes.
In other words, pretty much every food cart pod should be renamed in his honor. But he’s also a charmingly reticent, thoroughly decent-seeming profile subject with layers that would make an onion proud. Whether detailing his all-too-human struggles with deadlines, depicting his contentedly cluttered family life, or relating his time as the cellist in a punk rock band, the movie doles out biographical data judiciously.
“City of Gold,” though, lives up to its title, tagging along as Gold cruises around Los Angeles in his Dodge pickup, showering love on this patchwork, polyglot urban domain. Most positive cinematic portraits of L.A. are tinged with at least some derision, but this is might be the first film I’ve ever seen that made me actually want to live there. Or at least appreciate why others do. And only part of it has to do with food.
(“City of Gold” opens Friday, March 25, at Cinema 21. Jonathan Gold will appear live via Skype following the 7 p.m. screening on Thursday, March 31.)
Rated R (but only for a few f-bombs), 96 min. Grade: A-