DVDs for 1/27/09 – ‘The Secret Policeman’s Balls’

When Amnesty International needed to raise money and their profile, John Cleese called up his buddies (which included the members of Monty Python, Beyond the Fringe and The Goodies) to help put on fundraiser. The rest is history. Shout! Factory’s three-disc set The Secret Policeman’s Balls collects the five concert films shot of these benefits. The first of these, Pleasure At Her Majesty’s, is a straight behind-the-scenes documentary for the first half and a rather clumsily-shot performance film (with behind-the-scenes pieces interspersed between the stage skits) for the second. No matter, it’s a treat to see these comedy teams swap stories and comic philosophies and, at times, even members: Peter Cook joins in a Python sketch, Terry Jones takes a spot with the Beyond the Fringe crew and then everyone joins in on the finale: “The Lumberjack Song.” (Watch Michael Palin miss his cue!) Three years later, the benefit adopted the name The Secret Policeman’s Ball, brought in Pete Townsend and classical guitarist John Williams for musical interludes and added Rowan Atkinson and Billy Connolly to the cast.

Alan Bennett, Peter Cook. John Cleese and Graham Chapman
Alan Bennett, Peter Cook. John Cleese and Graham Chapman

Musical guests became more prominent in “The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball” (1981), including Sting, Bob Geldof, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, and downright dominate “The Secret Policeman’s Third Ball” (1987), but the skit comedy focus returns in the final benefit film. “The Secret Policeman’s Biggest Ball” (1989) opens with Michael Palin and John Cleese doing “Pet Shop” (with a twist punch line), and features Peter Cook and Dudley Moore (in their first live appearance together in years), Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, and Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. The first four shows were filmed in 16 mm in a manner more like a news event than a performance film – they look pretty primitive and the sound is less than stellar – and they are presented in anamorphic wide screen.

Read the review on MSN here.

Also new this week is the second and final season of the original alien invasion conspiracy series: The Invaders. David Vincent (Roy Thinnes) is still doggedly on the trail of the alien invasion of Earth but this season he’s starting to convince others. Just a few souls at first and then, with the mid-season episode “The Believers,” millionaire Edgar Scoville (Kent Smith) and a small group that slowly grows through end of the series. Created by Larry Cohen for Quinn Martin production, it borrows the structure from the company’s own “The Fugitive” – the man searching for the truth while on the run – and throws in a UFO conspiracy and a paranoid sensibility out of the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers. You see, they really are out to get him and a lot of his fellow believers are sacrificed to the cause. For all the sixties conventions and slow storytelling, it has held up nicely and, at its best, still strikes an eerie tone of alienation.

Here’s a digest of the other DVD releases featured on my MSN column:

Movies: RocknRolla (“It’s flashy, garish, self-aware and self-satisfied, not exactly smart but exceedingly clever…”)

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (“Woody’s writing hasn’t been this deft in years and his characters are hearty and full-blooded, with a touch of melancholy.”)

Roman Polanski: Wanted And Desired (“Polanski’s treatment by the American legal system… is an appalling portrait of judicial malfeasance, a legal nightmare worthy of Kafka”)

TV: Cheers: The Final Season (“After eleven seasons it’s last call at the Boston bar where everyone knows your name…”)

Blossom: Seasons One & Two (“a happily eccentric goofball, smart and funny and making her own fashion statement like a high school Annie Hall.”)

The Powerpuff Girls: 10th Anniversary Collection – The Complete Series (“Between recess and nap time, the adorable kindergarten dynamos… make the world once again safe for hopscotch and milk and cookies.”)

Special Releases: The Sidney Poitier Collection (“I’m particularly partial to Edge of the City, a low-key drama about the friendship between two longshoremen (Poitier and John Cassavetes) that reaches across racial lines…”)

Waterloo Bridge (“The second screen version of Robert E. Sherwood’s play is hopelessly romantic, helplessly tragic and a completely mired in the chauvinist morality of its era.”)

Blu-ray: The Bourne Collection

All three films starring Matt Damon as the spy who came in from the cold debut on Blu-ray in a box set. Doug Liman directs The Bourne Identity, an adaptation of Robert Ludlum’s novel about an amnesiac human weapon trying to discover his true identity while the CIA hunts him down, but the two sequels directed by Paul Greengrass are even better. Damon becomes the great anti-Bond of Hollywood action cinema with The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum. Greengrass shoots in a rough and ready style, choreographing complex action scenes on location and throwing the audience into the middle of the chaos with a handheld camera that whips and searches and follows the action as if the cameraman was catching it all on the fly.

The weekly column goes live every Tuesday on MSN Entertainment.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I'm a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I've written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View. I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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