A meticulously researched documentary from PBS resurrects a mostly forgotten but important chapter in Bay Area history and gives it more texture and relevance.
It along with a clever Roxie three-round boxing match between two of our most formidable filmmakers — David Lynch and David Cronenberg — are just a few of the must-see cinematic events this week.
Should simply you be wanting to escape from everything, you’re in luck, too. The “Star Wars” saga in all its glory rolls out in San Rafael.
So let’s jump right into it.
You can always count on PBS’ American Experience for intelligent, thoughtful conversation-starter documentaries that not only enlighten and educate but also engross us.
Award-winning director Li-Shin Yu (co-director of “The Chinese Exclusion Act”) achieves all of that with “Plague at the Golden Gate,” which effectively jettisons us back into time to 1900 San Francisco for the start of a bubonic plague that not only shook up the region but also the nation overall. Particularly hard hit — at least when it came to those getting accurately diagnosed — was Chinatown, a factor that fueled fearmongering and hatred, and eventually led to plans to cordon off the area with wire in an attempt to stop the disease’s spread into mostly white neighborhoods. Central in trying to cap that disease and figure out the source of it were two pioneers: first, the Hygienic Laboratory (now the National Institutes of Health) physician Joseph Kinyoun and, secondly, the more approachable physician Rupert Blue, who went on to serve as the fourth U.S. Surgeon General. Kinyoun curried the disfavor of politicians, the public and the press at key times while the unlikely Blue gained the wary trust of Chinatown residents, a large part thanks to his translator, Wong Chung.
Through the judicious use of interviews with historians and author/journalist David K. Randall — whose hailed 2019 “Black Death at the Golden Gate: The Race to Save America From the Bubonic Plague” inspired the documentary — Yu and her team have created a detailed look at all aspects of the plague — the players, the politicians, the politics and the racism that the disease brought with it. It’s tremendous. (Airs 9 p.m. May 24 on KQED, Channel 9 in the San Francisco area, and at https://www.pbs.org/)
Without a doubt Norman Jewison’s epic version of “Fiddler on the Roof” remains one of the most iconic movie musicals of all time. But how did that massively ambitious 1971 production make its transition from stage to screen? Filmmaker Daniel Raim provides the answers in the appropriately titled “Fiddler’s Journey to the Big Screen,” a lively look at the making of the movie musical, which showcased the talent of actor Topol in the lead role of Tevye. Cowritten by film critic Michael Sragow, it’s an essential watch for any “Fiddler” or musical fans. (Opens Friday at the Roxie in San Francisco and the Smith Rafael Film Center)
In an inspired programming idea, San Francisco’s Roxie has come up with a TKO cinematic battle between two filmmaking heavyweights: “David Lynch vs. David Cronenberg.” The hotly contested matchup couldn’t be more apropos given both have been known to push the envelope with their surreal, trippy oeuvres. But who is the ultimate champ? You’ll need to weigh in and ring that bell over at the Roxie.
Round 1 begins at 7 p.m. Friday when Lynch’s first feature-length head-turner “Eraserhead” bounds into the ring. The black-and-white 1977 indescribable experience delivers a bundle of lizard-like surrealist joy and is pitted against the 9 p.m. showing of Cronenberg’s underrated (at the time) 1983 horror show “Videodrome.” It finds James Woods and Blondie’s Debbie Harry tuning into body horror, kinky sex and … well, you’ll just have to watch for yourselves. (“Eraserhead” also screens at 8:30 p.m. Sunday, and “Videodrome” screens at 6:45 p.m. May 23.)
Round 2 comes up with a square-off between two of my faves: Cronenberg’s disgusting but romantic remake of the raving-mad scientist thriller “The Fly” (1986) with Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis and Lynch’s holy-hell-what-did-I-just-watch R-rated head-scratcher prequel to his iconic “Twin Peaks” TV series, “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.” That insane 1992 cipher was despised by critics, but I dug its go-for-broke ’tude. In it, a hot detective (Chris Isaak) uncovers more seamy circumstances surrounding the death of high-schooler Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee). (“The Fly” screens at 7 p.m. Saturday and 9:30 p.m. May 26, and “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me” screens at 9:15 p.m. Saturday and 9 p.m. May 25.)
The final round gives us an eyeful from both with rock star Sting wearing a futuristic diaper getup and James Spader taking us and Holly Hunter for an auto-erotica ride. Reviled by many, Lynch’s stab at Frank Herbert’s “Dune” left many dissatisfied, but some ate up the kitsch of that 1984 cult classic. “Crash,” on the other hand, outraged many, reportedly even Francis Ford Coppola, with its mix of sex and violence and car crashes. (“Dune” shows at 3:40 p.m. Sunday and 8:45 p.m. May 23 while “Crash” shows at 6:30 p.m. Sunday and 9:05 p.m. May 24.)
For ticket prices and more info, visit https://www.roxie.com/david-lynch-vs-david-cronenberg/.
If the phrase “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away …” sends shivers up and down your spine, expect to get all shook up over the “Star Wars” summer series program speeding like a Millennium Falcon over to San Rafael starting this week.
The one that started it all — 1977’s classic summer blockbuster “Star Wars: A New Hope” with Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford lands Wednesday (7 p.m. May 18) and 7 p.m. Friday and 4:15 p.m. Saturday at the Smith Rafael.
The series continues with “The Empire Strikes Back” (May 26 and May 28), “Return of the Jedi” (June 2 and June 4), “The Phantom Menace” (June 9 and June 11), “Attack of the Clones” (June 16 and June 18), “Revenge of the Sith” (June 23 and June 25), “The Force Awakens” (June 30 and July 2), “The Last Jedi” (July 7 and July 9), “Solo: A Star Wars Story” (July 14 and July 16) and “The Rise of Skywalker” (July 21 and July 23).
The summer of “Star Wars” continues over on Disney+ as well when the limited series from Lucasfilm “Obi-Wan Kenobi” starring Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen debuts with two episodes on May 27. It takes place a decade after what went down in “Revenge of the Sith.”
For information on the Rafael series, visit https://rafaelfilm.cafilm.org/star-wars-summer-series/. A pass to all costs $75.
If classic sci-fi is your thing, you won’t want to miss getting comfy over at Oakland’s New Parkway Theater for a screening of Ridley Scott’s influential “Blade Runner: The Final Cut.” It shows at 9 p.m. Sunday. (https://www.thenewparkway.com/upcomingevents/calendar/)
And should you be a Prince fan, get ready to party like it’s 1999 when the late artist’s 1987 concert documentary “Sign O’ the Times” gets its guitar licks in and reminds us what a musical genius Prince was. Hop into your little red corvette for the Saturday and Sunday screenings. (https://rafaelfilm.cafilm.org/prince-sign-o-the-times/)