Cries & Whispers

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WOODY ALLEN got caught up in a new scandal last week: the verdict in his custody battle with Mia Farrow. It is no surprise that Farrow won. The mother usually does, and that's probably the way it should be. I do not claim to be familiar with every detail of the whole sad story. But the ruling by Judge Elliott Wilk gives off a stench that can be smelt an ocean away.

The nastiest aspect of the case was Farrow's allegation that Allen had abused their seven-year-old adopted daughter, Dylan. If it was true, it reflected extremely badly on him. If it wasn't, it reflected just as badly on her. The allegation was investigated by a team of medical experts from Yale University. Their verdict was clear: there was insufficient evidence to support it. The judge, in his wisdom, has taken a fuzzier line: he is not sure whether the allegation is true. 'We will probably never know,' he says. That's fair enough. But the judge has not, in the immortal phrase of Tom Stoppard, had the courage of his lack of convictions. If Allen is not guilty, he must be innocent. That is one of the first principles of law, English or American. But not according to Judge Wilk, who pours scorn on the findings of the Yale group, without having anything to counter them with, and proceeds to pass two sentences on Allen. He is not to be left alone with his children. And as if that wasn't bad enough, he is to be branded with the stigma of the incestuous child-molester. There is talk of this being the end of Woody Allen's career. It ought to be the end of Elliott Wilk's.

LORD RIX, the charitable former farceur, has resigned from the Arts Council drama panel. He is protesting at Government cuts but also, more interestingly, at the independent report on the council by Price Waterhouse, the accountants. One remark in particular got Rix's goat: 'The Arts Council must not indulge in 'social engineering'.' This was apparently a reference to the council's fine record of encouraging theatres to build ramps for wheelchairs, install loops for the hard of hearing, and so on. 'What is life,' Rix asks, 'but social engineering? What is art? Social engineering - trying to change things - is an integral part of our existence.' Absolutely. The episode is a good illustration of how Thatcherism, far from receding, has become entrenched in public life. It is just about tolerable that accountants should be called in to advise public bodies on how to be more efficient. It is not at all tolerable that they should be allowed to use their reports to give right-wing lectures to those more public-spirited than themselves.

THE SCALA cinema in King's Cross, north London, closed last Sunday. Put like that, it doesn't sound much. And, next to the death of British cinema, the death of a British cinema doesn't amount to a hill of beans. But the Scala was no ordinary cinema. It was the only real cult cinema in Britain. While other repertory houses were scheduling nice programmes of polite French films, the Scala was showing movies fetched from the boundaries of taste, like Thundercrack], Curt McDowell's hardcore classic, or Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, the banned film which nearly put the cinema out of business when it was shown earlier this year. You may not have wanted to see these films, but it was good to know they were there. It was the same with the weekly all-nighters: nowhere else in Britain could you see in the dawn watching lesbian vampire movies. Alas, audiences dwindled, rent soared, and despite a well-received campaign to save the cinema, cold financial logic could only be defied for so long. The Scala will be missed for many reasons, some sentimental: the cackhanded Hollywood mural, the wonderful poster-programmes, the shambling Art Deco building, the filthy coffee. But the real loss is the loss of a possibility, the smoothing of a rough edge. Last Sunday, an option was removed. It's later than you think.