Arts & Events

New: Movie review: “City of Gold” at Shattuck Cinemas

Christopher Adams
Tuesday March 29, 2016 - 11:51:00 AM

While I was born and raised in Los Angeles, I haven’t really called it home for over 50 years. Family visits tended to be exactly that, visits with family, leavened with occasional forays to the nearby beach or one of the art museums, which LA has in spades, though unfortunately separated by miles of freeway. My post childhood memories of LA have been of endless driving and endless strip malls.  

It was almost by luck that I saw “City of Gold” last weekend. The “City” of the title is Los Angeles. The “Gold” is the protagonist of this gently compelling documentary about the LA Times food critic Jonathan Gold. Gold loves driving the freeways and the endless streets of strip commercial in search of the definitive Vietnamese café or the best taco truck. Along the way he finds time to learn the stories of the immigrants who have so enriched his LA not just with their food but with their life stories.  

My growing-up memories of restaurant food in LA are Mexican, always, and Chinese if we travelled to Chinatown in downtown LA. And since my father had jobs as a deliveryman of some sort, he spent time in west LA finding the definitive rye bread and the best cheesecake. Gold too shares memories of good Jewish delis, but he has gone way beyond to find the definitive Ethiopian restaurant or the absolutely spiciest Burmese soup.  

More than that he has learned about the people who have started these restaurants and whose children are growing up American. The director Laura Gabbert manages to tell these stories without sentimentality and without being didactic. The physician whose Ethiopian mother put him through school working as a waitress and who has now financed her successful restaurant flashes a smile at the camera but no more. You get the message. It is a wonderfully optimistic movie for these depressing times.  

My only pessimism came from a much more local situation. The theater in which I saw this movie, Shattuck Cinemas, is one of the few places where a thoughtful non-blockbuster like “City of Gold” is likely to get a screening. And soon it will be destroyed to allow a developer to inflict us with yet another ugly high-rise. It makes even those endless strip commercial streets in LA seem humane.