You may have heard somewhere along the line that food is the new rock’n’roll. if we take that as a given it’s fair to say that Laura Gabbert’s documentary City of Gold makes a strong case for it’s subject, Jonathan Gold, as patient zero. The tipping point of the foodie revolution, the man to blame for your Instagram feed being stuffed to the gills with artful pictures of ridiculous looking foodstuffs. A worthy contender for the title in any case, due to his own long and winding road from classical music, to punk rock, music writer, to food writer. Being the first recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for his contribution to food criticism isn’t too bad of a feather to place in one’s cap either.
Gold comes across as something of a foodie Quentin Tarantino. Both in his appreciation of, and knowledge regarding, previously overlooked and supposedly lesser cuisines, as well as his contagious enthusiasm for the wider spectrum of gastronomy in general. He does admittedly have a somewhat gentler approach when it comes to expressing these enthusiasms and, as far as I can remember, he didn’t seem to be all that into feet.
The film unfolds at an unhurried sun-drenched pace and slowly becomes, not unlike Gold’s own writing, to be as much a story of Los Angeles and America (especially the immigrant experience) as it is about the man’s life and work. Hopping from one uniquely inhabited borough to the next, we are given a feel for how Gold came to develop his deep love and appreciation of food and its place in our lives.
And Gabbert certainly does a thorough job of detailing Gold’s journey from classical musician to food writer, slowly piecing together the story of Gold’s life in the arts. The discovery of the punk scene leading him first to playing, and then writing about, popular music. There is an especially charming story from around this time, of his quest to eat at every eatery along the 25 km stretch of Pico Boulevard (Los Angeles’ back porch), during which time he seems to have discovered the importance of getting to know the people who were making the food, and no doubt the realisation that their stories were every bit as important as the food itself. This endearing coming of age story at the very least establishes his considerable bona fides.
I was actually quite surprised at just how heartwarming Gabbert’s film wound up being. There are lovely notes of warmth and goodwill throughout, as we listen to Gold’s friends and colleagues talk glowingly about his place in their lives, and then, as we hear Gold himself talk unassumingly of them, their food, and the contribution they’ve made to his. For someone like myself, who has a somewhat more pragmatic approach to food, it revealed a lot of what I had been missing in the new foodie revolution. I kind of get it now.
By the film’s end, you might even get the idea that Gold is just really into the breaking of bread in a ceremonial sense, and that his writing and vocation is merely a means to an ends, a way of doing so with the greatest number and variety of people. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that Gold’s true passion is in communities and the people who inhabit them.
This much I’m sure of, as the credits roll you’re going to want to find someplace cheap and cheerful to share a juicy taco with a friendly stranger. Go see it and tell me I’m wrong.
City of Gold plays at ACMI from the 5th to the 27th of February.