STILL CONSPIRING Secret Policeman’s Film Festival

Last week the American
Cinematheque kicked off its Secret Policeman’s Film Festival at the famed
Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood
Boulevard showcasing a month’s worth of rare gems
of wonderful comedy, music and a commitment to change and hope.

 

BY JOSE MARTINEZ

 

As part of the Mods & Rockers tenth anniversary
festival, this is a special-themed retrospective saluting the finest in British
comedy and rock via the Secret
Policeman’s Ball
which helped raise awareness and money on behalf of
Amnesty International back in 1980. This month marks the 30th anniversary of the legendary Secret
Policeman’s Ball
– the brainchild of Monty Python’s John Cleese.

 

Featuring an all-star lineup, the original Secret Policeman’s Ball as well as the
subsequent Secret Policeman’s Other Ball in 1982 included performances by comedians
Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Neil Innes (who actually was on hand during
the festival’s opening last Thursday), Peter Cook, Eddie Izzard, as well as
musical performances by Pete Townshend, Sting, Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins,
Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Kate Bush, David Gilmour, and many more.

 

Opening Night featured the documentary Remember the Secret Policeman’s Ball? This 2004 British film
directed by Margaret Kinmonth celebrates the spirit and memory of the Secret Policeman’s Ball series showing
how the innovative concerts galvanized musicians, most notably Bob Geldof, into
becoming social activists, eventually leading to groundbreaking socially
conscious efforts such as Band Aid, and Live Aid.

 

Also screened was The
Secret Policeman Rocks!
, a look at some of the best benefit performances over
the years by Sting, Pete Townshend, Peter Gabriel, Eric Clapton, Dave Stewart,
Kate Bush, et al, as well as The Secret
Policeman’s Rare Nuggets!
which is a 15-minute compilation of hilarious rarities
and outtakes.

 

Sunday saw the airing of the 1986 Conspiracy of Hope concert
from Giants Stadium in its entirety. The 11-hour concert, shown in real time,
featured performances by John Eddie (with Max Weinberg on drums), The Hooters,
Peter, Paul & Mary, Jackson Browne, Ruben Blades, Yoko Ono, Howard Jones,
Miles Davis, Carlos Santana, Joan Baez, Lou Reed, Peter Gabriel, Bryan Adams,
U2, and the reunited Police, among others. A treat was actually watching some
of the commercials that originally aired…so funny! As were many of the musicians’
outfits and hairdos 20-some years ago.

 

Conspiracy of Hope, the 1986 six-city tour, fresh off the
heels of Live Aid the year before, was a caravan of rockers – including Sting
(The Police reunited mid tour after a three-year break), U2, Peter Gabriel,
Bryan Adams, Lou Reed, Joan Baez, and The Neville Brothers – that helped raise
awareness of Amnesty International, a human-rights organization, celebrating 25
years at the time, campaigning against the detention of prisoners of conscience.

 

The marathon concert also included appearances
by Christopher Reeve before his debilitating accident, as well as Michael J.
Fox and Muhammad Ali before their bouts with Parkinson’s. Ali pleaded with
those watching to be tolerant and not to be so quick to judge all Muslims every time there’s a
terrorist attack. New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley pointed out that several governments
around the world unjustly abuse prisoners – which sounded ironic nearly 25
years later with the recent closing of Guantánamo Bay.

 

The Conspiracy of Hope concert was only ever broadcast live
and has never been re-aired, nor is it currently available for purchase, so it
was a pleasure to revisit an era of music gone by. Back in ’86 The Bangles were
walking like Egyptians, Whitney Houston was huge, INXS and Berlin were still
relevant, Van Halen was topping the charts, Huey Lewis was both hip and square,
and John Cougar Mellencamp was busy r-o-c-k-ing in the USA.

 

This time around I had a greater appreciation for Miles
Davis, and was even impressed with Joan Baez, whom I dismissed as too granola
back in the day. Ruben Blades was a treat, as was watching a pre Joshua Tree U2 on the verge of worldwide
super stardom that would catapult them into the biggest band on the planet discussion. Bono, looking more like a
disheveled Jim Morrison in ’86, was still as intense and powerful as ever as
the band tore through Bob Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm” and John Lennon’s “Cold
Turkey,” as well as delivering a moving rendition of The Beatles’ “Help” and
the “Sun City” protest song with guests Steven Van Zandt, Ruben Blades, and Lou
Reed.

 

Bono, who originally attended the Secret Policeman’s Other Ball benefit concert has noted, “I saw The Secret Policeman’s Ball and it
became a part of me. It sowed a seed.”

 

I remember feeling compelled to join Amnesty International
back in 1986 and felt so again Sunday while watching the concert one more time.
Indeed we’re still living in a time where social injustice is still rampant and
now, more than ever, an organization like Amnesty International is as relevant
as ever.

 

The Secret Policeman’s Film Festival runs through July 19 in
Los Angeles. It
will soon set up shop at New York’s Lincoln Center
and Paley Center from June 26 – July 31. Upcoming
highlights during the Egyptian run include the world theatrical premiere of Human Rights Now! – a three-hour
retrospective of the 1988 concert in Argentina celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights featuring Sting, Peter
Gabriel, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, Youssou N’Dour and Tracy Chapman.
This screens June 20.

 

Another world theatrical premiere will be The Paris Concert for Amnesty International on
June 21. This 1998 three-hour concert from Paris includes performances by Peter Gabriel,
Springsteen, Radiohead, Alanis Morissette, Shania Twain, Jimmy Page &
Robert Plant, and an appearance by the Dalai Lama.

 

A look back at a time when music was used as a vehicle for positive
change, Amnesty International reported their membership in the U.S. increased
by 45,000 after the Conspiracy of Hope Tour. The Secret Policeman’s Film
Festival is billed as “a celebration of three decades of mock & roll” for
Amnesty International and we can only hope that kind of passion still exists in
all of us.

 

For more information
on Amnesty International see www.amnesty.org.
For more information on The Secret Policeman’s Film Festival and the American
Cinematheque please visit. www.SecretPolicemansBall.com and www.americancinematheque.com.

 

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