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You might approach this film in the same way that I did: with a deep
respect for Gold's work and a general interest in so-called foodie
culture. You might have even first encountered Gold's work in much the
same way that I did--by stumbling upon a glowing review pasted near
your table in some hole-in-the-wall eatery (in my case, the Chung King
Restaurant in the Monterey Park location that now houses Huolala). Like
me, you'll certainly find much to enjoy in this documentary such as the
fascinating forays into some of his most liked restaurants (perhaps
some of which you have even been to) and the bemusing insights into his
personal life (as a "failed cellist"; as a man of voracious appetites
for food, knowledge, culture, and so on). Unfortunately, these small
vignettes amount to the entirety of the film's charm and there is
little to elevate it to greater than the sum of its parts.
City of Gold feels disjointed, fragmented, and altogether uncompleted
to me. I don't necessarily feel that a documentary must ascribe some
overarching meaning to its subject--a character study can often stand
on its own--but even as a character study, the film fell flat. There
seems to be no rhyme or reason to what is included and when it is
included in the film. Instead, even some of the most fascinating points
simply feel shoehorned in at awkward times. The final twenty or thirty
minutes, for instance, use a KCRW guest DJ appearance by Gold as a sort
of refrain. It is a cheap way to investigate his persona and it fails
to link up with much of anything else in the documentary.
My biggest gripe with City of Gold is how it failed in a way that
ultimately separates good documentaries from mediocre ones: much of it
felt like performance rather than unadulterated insight. In some
scenes, he is at the LA Times offices and in meeting with his editors
and others to discuss upcoming pieces. Any notion of unfiltered access
is immediately dispelled: much of the conversation seems addressed to
the camera (the viewer) and it feels both stilted and pretending.
The film, as short as it is, feels at least twenty minutes too long. At
the conclusion, it fails to make up for this. There is a great
documentary somewhere inside of City of Gold. Had I turned it off after
the first 30 minutes, my review would likely be 8 stars but, well, it
just kept going (nowhere).
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