by hook or by crook
Film, 2001, 5 stars
Written and Directed: Harry Dodge and Silas Howard
There comes a time in the evolution of a film genre when you feel like the tides are turning. It was about time that lesbian films made the shift from the entirely self-aware exploration of sexuality into real storytelling, concentrating on the experiences queer and trans women have, rather than just on the experience of being gay.
By Hook or By Crook is one of those films. While it fits perfectly well on the bill of any gay and lesbian film festival, it makes only vague references to the two lead characters actually being transgender. In fact, while I’m proud to claim this film as a “queer film”, I’m almost ashamed to have to pigeon-hole the film as such, simply because labels like that seem so limiting for a film with such enormous scope such as this.
This was a film conceived, written, financed and made by Harry Dodge and Silas Howard, who also star in the film. Shy, a young butch woman (Since it isn’t mentioned, it’s difficult to know if Sly is transgender) raised by her father in Hicksville USA, fails to make the mortgage payments on her house. When the bank forecloses, she gets the idea that money is the only way to find happiness, so she travels to San Francisco to rob a bank, the theory being to turn herself from one of the losers of society into a winner.
The problem is, she doesn’t have a clue about robbing a bank, and doesn’t have the money to pay for a gun, so she drifts about, homeless, hungry, until eventually she saves Valentine (the amazingly talented Harry Dodge) from a brutal beating. The two become fast friends, both in spite of and because of Valentine’s erratic, manic-depressive behaviour, surviving by small-time grifting in the stores of San Francisco.
We follow the lives of the two friends as they become more and more intertwined. We share in their tragedies, and their failings, their long term-loves and fleeting moments of happiness. Finally they learn through each other that money is the least of their concerns - that courage, love, loyalty and true friendship are the things that will make or break them in life.
The film is gritty, dark, and contains some of the best acting that independent film has to offer - besides the two leads special mention has to go to Stanya Kahn for her incredibly moving portrayal of Billie, Valentine’s long-time lover. This is real character-driven drama the likes of which has rarely been seen on the queer film festival circuit.
Beautifully shot in digital video, By Hook or By Crook is a visual feast that draws you in and lets you wallow in the murky places, as unforgiving to its audiences as it is to its characters. It’s not the prettiest way to spend 90 minutes, but it may just be one of the most rewarding film experiences you ever have.