The Film Society of Lincoln Center will celebrate the 30th anniversary of Amnesty International’s comedy and rock benefits with “The Secret Policeman’s Film Festival”. Beginning on Friday, June 26 through Wednesday, July 1, the Walter Reade Theater will showcase the specials and documentaries that offered up many comedy and music performances,. A national event, the festival is also taking place in Los Angeles at the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre and The Paley Center for Media and will continue in New York – from July 1 to July 31 – also at The Paley Center for Media .
Co-created by Monty Python’s John Cleese, June 2009 marks three decades of the first in the series of benefit shows that brought together some of Britain’s comedy greats (Monty Python, Eleanor Bron, Billy Connolly, Peter Cook, Neil Innes, Dame Edna, Jennifer Saunders, Rowan Atkinson and many more), with rock acts (U2, Sting, Peter Gabriel, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, Phil Collins, Duran Duran, Seal, Donovan, Morrissey, Jeff Beck, David Gilmour, Mark Knopfler, Dave Stewart, Bob Geldof, Kate Bush, Joan Armatrading) to support Amnesty International.
Opening the festival on Friday, June 26 is the U.S. Premiere of Roger Graef and Jonathan Miller’s “Pleasure at Her Majesty’s,” a documentary presenting the very first Amnesty benefit show (which established the blueprint for all future shows) starring the comedy of Monty Python, Beyond the Fringe, Eleanor Bron, Neil Innes (The Rutles) and Dame Edna, and featuring “very rare rehearsal footage and access to behind-the-scenes, between-the-skits and in-the-dressing-room.” Screening with the film is the original, uncut version of Roger Graef’s “The Mermaid Frolics,” also in its U.S. Premiere; never before seen on any format in the U.S. (DVD and VHS included), it documents a one-off comedy performance, stage directed by Monty Python’s Terry Jones, starring John Cleese and then-wife Connie Booth from “Fawlty Towers.”
Also showing on opening day is the World Theatrical Premiere of Margaret Kinmoth’s “Remember the Secret Policeman’s Ball?.” Commissioned by the BBC in 1994 to celebrate the series’ 25th anniversary, this “Best of the Balls” presents both performances and recollections of many of the key participants, including Python’s John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, plus Rowan Atkinson (“Mr. Bean”), Stephen Fry, Jennifer Saunders, and musicians Sting and Bob Geldof. Screening with Remember… is “The Secret Policeman Rocks!”, featuring Pete Townshend, Sting, Peter Gabriel, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, David Gilmour, Mark Knopfler, Dave Stewart, Kate Bush, Phil Collins, Bob Geldof, and more. Series co-creator and co-producer Martin Lewis, who first recruited rock musicians for Amnesty, created this brand-new music special to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the series. Lewis will appear in person at the screening.
Other highlights include the eponymous film/event that gave its name to the entire series, “The Secret Policeman’s Ball,” directed by Julien Temple, and “Conspiracy of Hope.’ “Hope” is marathon screening of Amnesty’s legendary 1986 all-day NY concert at Giants Stadium will be presented in “real time”. This all-day special event will be screened minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, uncut, in the same month-of-the-year, same day-of-the-week, exact same timeframe. Performances include The Police (specially reformed after a 4-year hiatus), U2, Peter Gabriel, Miles Davis, Jackson Browne and Lou Reed, Carlos Santana, Fela Kuti, Joni Mitchell, Yoko Ono, Joan Baez, The Neville Brothers, Bryan Adams, Howard Jones and appearances by Robert DeNiro, Michael J. Fox, and Muhammad Ali .
The full lineup for New York (with descriptions provided by the Film Society of Lincoln Center), you can check out the Los Angeles schedule here:
Conspiracy of Hope USA, 1986; 660m A marathon anniversary screening of Amnesty International’s legendary, all-day New York concert in real time. Inspired by the success of the U.K.-produced Secret Policeman’s Ball shows, films, and albums, the U.S. section of Amnesty International organized a six-city tour in 1986. A caravan including U2, The Police (specially re-formed after a four-year hiatus), Peter Gabriel, Jackson Browne, and Lou Reed spread the human rights message at the rollicking concerts, capped off by a grand finale, all-day event with an expanded slate at Giants Stadium. The 11-hour concert was aired live by MTV as a Live Aid-style spectacular, and the broadcast was never repeated or transferred to VHS or DVD. This screening, exactly twenty-three years later, coincides with the original to the minute. Re-experience the entire legendary festival wearing your best 80s duds. Prizes for best outfits. All-Day Tickets: $20 public; $16 senior; $15 member/student After 6:00pm: $15 public; $13 senior; $12 member/student Sunday, June 28, noon – 11:00pm
Human Rights Now! Larry Jordan, UK , 1988; 180m Bruce Springsteen, Youssou N’Dour, and Tracy Chapman joined Amnesty stalwarts Sting, Peter Gabriel, Bono, and more for this follow-up to the “Conspiracy of Hope” tour commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This exhilarating film presents the tour’s grand finale concert in Buenos Aires augmented by highlights from the preceding six weeks of performances from exotic locales throughout the world. Highlights include Sting and Springsteen’s duets on “The River” and “Every Breath You Take,” a group performance of Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up,” and Bob Dylan’s “Chimes Of Freedom.” Sat Jun 27: *1:30pm Wed Jul 01: *3.00pm
Pleasure at Her Majesty’s Roger Graef and Jonathan Miller, UK , 1976; 101m This first Amnesty International benefit show and progenitor of The Secret Policeman’s Ball was instigated by John Cleese, who rounded up his friends from Monty Python and other Brit-com luminaries including Peter Cook, Eleanor Bron, Neil Innes, and Dame Edna for an historic gathering of “greatest hits” performances. Beyond The Fringe’s Jonathan Miller and verite director Roger Graef capture the live stage show, as well as the preparations, rehearsals, and between-the-skits dressing room banter. Fri Jun 26: 2:00pm Sat Jun 27: *5.00pm
The Mermaid Frolics Roger Graef, UK , 1977; 52m This television special featuring Amnesty’s 1977 stage show directed by Monty Python’s Terry Jones includes very rare John Cleese performances: teamed with his then-wife Connie Booth, of Fawlty Towers fame, and with one of his heroes and role models, Jonathan Miller. Plus Peter Cook, Terry Jones, Peter Ustinov, Sue Jones-Davies (Judith in Monty Python’s Life of Brian), and Julie Covington. Fri Jun 26: 2:00pm Sat Jun 27: *5.00pm
Remember the Secret Policeman’s Ball? Margaret Kinmonth, UK , 2004; 75m This entertaining documentary was commissioned by the BBC to celebrate the 25th anniversary of The Secret Policeman’s Ball. This virtual “Best of the Balls” presents both performances and recollections of many of the key participants, including John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Rowan Atkinson, Stephen Fry, Jennifer Saunders, Sting, and Bob Geldof. It delves into the archives of the earliest shows, confronts some of the performers with their younger selves (with some memorable results), and looks at the Amnesty shows’ role in the evolution of both British comedy and musicians as social activists. Fri Jun 26: *9:30pm
The Secret Policeman Rocks! UK, 2009; 60m The Secret Policeman’s Ball series co-creator and co-producer Martin Lewis, who first recruited rock musicians for Amnesty, created this brand-new music special celebrating the 30th anniversary of the series. Featuring Pete Townshend, Sting, Peter Gabriel, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, David Gilmour, Mark Knopfler, Dave Stewart, Kate Bush, Phil Collins, Bob Geldof, and more. Fri Jun 26: *9:30pm
The Secret Policeman’s Ball Roger Graef, UK , 1980; 91m The first stage show (and film) with the famous title that gave the entire series its name was “slightly directed” by John Cleese and features half the Pythons, plus Eleanor Bron, Billy Connolly, the breakthrough debut of Rowan Atkinson, and what many critics consider to be Peter Cook’s finest performance: his savage satire of one of Britain’s most salacious political sex scandals (hysterically funny even without knowledge of the details). The film also captures the birth of the “unplugged” phenomenon and the rock community’s longstanding support of Amnesty International with stunning acoustic performances by The Who’s Pete Townshend. This original, uncut 1980 U.K. film was never released in the U.S. and includes 20 minutes from the DVD version. Sat Jun 27: *8.30pm Mon Jun 29: *1.30pm
The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball Julien Temple, UK, 1982; 99m (Original UK Version) The really big show was co-directed by John Cleese, who revived several classic skits for the event from his pre-Python stint with Graham Chapman in the legendary At Last The 1948 Show. It features three Pythons, Billy Connolly, Rowan Atkinson, the BBC’s “Not The 9 ‘O Clock News” team, and newcomers Victoria Wood and Alexei Sayle, while series co-creator Martin Lewis built on his earlier success by recruiting a slew of established rockers (Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Donovan) and emerging talents (Sting, Phil Collins) to the Amnesty cause for memorable musical interludes that inspired Live Aid creator Bob Geldof to follow suit. Sat Jun 27: *8.30pm Mon Jun 29: *1.30pm
The Secret Policeman’s Rare Nuggets! UK, 2009; 15m These hilarious rarities from the Secret Policeman vaults include promotional spots, TV appearances, and outtakes with John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Peter Cook, Billy Connolly, and Rowan Atkinson. Sat Jun 27: *8.30pm Mon Jun 29: *1.30pm
The Secret Policeman’s Third Ball Ken O’Neill, UK , 1987; 89m After a six-year hiatus, the Secret Policeman’s Ball shows resumed with a strong hybrid of comedy and music. The humor reflected the emergence of a new wave of comedic performers in the U.K. , including Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry, Robbie Coltrane, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Mel Smith, Griff Rhys Jones, Lenny Henry, and the Spitting Image puppets. Lending support and continuity was John Cleese. The stellar lineup of musicians includes Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, Dire Strait’s Mark Knopfler, Joan Armatrading, Bob Geldof, Duran Duran, and, for the first time, some American guests: Jackson Browne, Lou Reed, and Chet Atkins. Tue Jun 30: *1.30pm Wed Jul 1: *7:30pm
The Secret Policeman’s Biggest Ball Mike Holgate , UK , 1989; 94m The 1989 show returned the Ball to its roots as primarily a comedy gathering with a mixture of the (by-now) older guard–John Cleese, Michael Palin, and Peter Cook and Dudley Moore in their last work together–and new wave, including Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry, Adrian Edmondson, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Ben Elton, Robbie Coltrane, and the Spitting Image puppets. In a reflection of the cross-generational spirit, the stage show was directed by John Cleese and Jennifer Saunders. Tue Jun 30: *1.30pm Wed Jul 1: *7:30pm
* Series co-creator/co-producer Martin Lewis in person