By Hook or by Crook

USA 2001, 98 mins
Directors: Harry Dodge, Silas Howard

By Hook or by Crook is a buddy film that chronicles three weeks in the life of a handsome, gender-bending, small-town butch with a nagging messiah-complex. Emotionally defeated since the death of her father, Shy heads to the big city to sink herself into a ‘life of crime’. She is quickly distracted by Valentine, a deliriously expressive, wiseacre adoptee on a misguided search for her birthmother. The two freaky grifters join forces and learn the true meaning of ‘poise under pressure’ in this visually stunning and wonderfully acted, anti-authoritarian tale of friendship, trust and redemption.

A true tragic-comedy, By Hook or by Crook is like a female version of Midnight Cowboy – hilarious, poignant and brave, bringing grace and humour to its socially insightful subjects. It is also the first of its kind: it’s a movie about butches by butches and gives voice to a powerful new creative sensibility.

Shot at over 64 locations by indie vet D.P. Ann T. Rossetti (Go Fish) and directed with lush detail by first-time directors – the artist/rockstar duo Dodge and Howard – By Hook or by Crook opens a carnival peephole into a world almost never before captured in a narrative film: the lives of real, working class butches (and the ladies who love them). A lucid piece of cinéma vérité with fearless moments of magic realism, this film is as rowdy as it is tender in its groundbreaking gender exploration and treatment of human fallibility, resilience and dignity. Sketches of mental illness and money troubles are made fresh with the rough and touching combination of rusty hot-rod glamour and un-selfconscious vulnerability.

Exploiting the full potential of digital video, the film’s vibrating colours and luminous presence sustain a photographic vision, relaying imagery from an American gothic landscape without dipping toward sentimentality or the voyeur’s wink. The main characters, Shy and Valentine, live in and around this world with the intimacy of insiders, as well as the wariness of those who have been relegated to the outside. These characters are thus hauntingly familiar and completely original. With acutely unique stories and styles, this film deftly circumvents stereotype and posturing and rises to the task of portraying gorgeous human intricacy, with the incisive, self-reflective wit and generosity of a great novel. The premiere feature from Steakhaus and No Go Backs Productions, the film also introduces acclaimed writer/performer Stanya Kahn, who brings original dialogue and a powerful performance as Billie.

True grit and the sexiness of a naked landscape: By Hook or by Crook is utterly post-post-modern, a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll.

Harry Dodge and Silas Howard on ‘By Hook or by Crook’
Harry Dodge: This is definitely not a crime flick. It’s not an action adventure, a mystery, or a thriller. It’s an emotional thriller. I guess I want people to know coming in to the theatre, that they’re about to watch a movie about love, really. All different kinds of love. About friendship and finding connection in an alienated world.

Silas Howard: Right. Which is funny because we initially set out to write a gritty, bad-cop action movie. The script was fun, but in the end lacked soul. We started all over again, giving ourselves permission to go at it from a more personal angle, to write about things that really mattered to us.

Dodge: We wanted to make a film about people with big ideas and big dreams, who end up dealing with the shadowy subtleties of human life. Not subtle as in insignificant. But as in vulnerable, fallible, and plain in the face of god, or the larger mystery. The movie has a quite a few layers, one is a redemption story. At the start Shy feels like a failure, a failed super-hero, having not been able to rescue his chronically ill father. He’s incredibly frustrated by poverty and shut down with grief. And so a bit nihilistic when he makes a loosely-framed plan to head to California and robs a grocery store. I always imagined he sort of wants to get caught, he has that insane urge to go all the way down, cuz you know how George Orwell says, ‘The one good thing about finally going to the dogs is you no longer have to worry about going to the dogs.’

Howard: I love it when you quote Mr Orwell, man. How long ago did we read that book? At any rate, yes, Shy’s driven by a lack of emotion, intuiting a way out of a terrible rut. And then he meets Valentine, who is full of vitality, living on the outskirts of ‘normalcy.’ Here’s someone who has accepted himself. A person with too much spirit in a world easily threatened by difference, and yet he’s lucid and insightful, living very close to his imagination and quick intuition. I think Valentine inspires Shy to trust himself, trust his own eccentricities, trust the strength and resilience of his own heart. And Shy kind of pulls Val up by the scruff of the neck too, to say ‘C’mon man, get it together.’

Dodge: Exactly. Also Valentine later in the movie – gives Shy the opportunity to fully realise that superhero alter-ego of his. Actually Valentine supplies quite a few ways for Shy to feel his own impact on the planet. To make a difference. To be somebody. Which is all anyone wants anyway. That and to be loved.

Howard: And Stanya did a wonderful job writing and portraying Billie, Valentine’s girlfriend, who rides both worlds. We wanted her to be able to mediate between the poetry of Val’s world and the harsher more demanding reality of Shy’s world. Billie is deeply gentle, but she’s got this powerful spirit and sturdy backbone. She really carries a lot of the emotion of the film. It’s the clarity of the love between her and Valentine that really influences Shy.

Dodge: One of my favourite elements is Shy’s ongoing pivotal decision-making process wherein he keeps deciding to stick by Valentine, this guy who is going to be a handful, someone who’s a little crazy. We keep wondering what he’ll do but Shy remains loyal throughout. It’s a very appealing trait. He doesn’t necessarily realise it consciously, but when they meet, something in his gut wakes up and knows this friendship is important.

Howard: We’ve always hoped this project would reflect the creativity and actual valour of the community of people we came from. And I think it does. From the get-go, this movie had its roots in our extended family of weirdos in San Francisco. Harry and I ran our own cafe and art space for seven years, and it was here that so many outsiders and freaks found a home. And regular guys too for that matter. We started writing our first script on cigarette breaks. And in the end, it was a lot of the people who had supported the cafe and participated in the events we sponsored, that came through and signed up. Signed up for what, none of us even knew. We had never made a movie. But we never really thought we couldn’t. I guess we’ve found that thinking like that doesn’t get you very far.

Howard: After the San Francisco premiere of By Hook or by Crook, this very young punk girl came up to me and said ‘I’ve been waiting my whole life for a movie like this!’ It touched me so profoundly, I felt like saying ‘Thank you so much for telling me that, because it took us practically your whole life to make this movie’.’

Dodge: It practically cost our lives!’

Production notes

Directors: Harry Dodge, Silas Howard
Production Company: Steakhaus Productions
In association with: No Go Backs
Producers: Steak House, Silas Howard, Harry Dodge
Associate Producers: Laurie Sirois, Cross, Romy Suskin, Brian Murphy
Location Manager: Shannon Amos
Consulting Producers: Annie Imhoff, Jenni Olson
1st Assistant Director: Merrill Beth Ferguson
2nd Assistant Director: Sini Anderson
Script Supervisor: Tai Uhlmann
Screenplay: Harry Dodge, Silas Howard
Dialogue for ‘Billie’ Written by: Stanya Kahn
Director of Photography: Ann T. Rossetti
Gaffer: Bill Basquin
Editors: Harry Dodge, Silas Howard, Monica T. Nolan, Jonny A, Romy Suskin, P.F. McCarthy, John Huckert
Production Designer: Samara Halperin
Art Director: Chloe Sherman
Original Score: Carla Bozulich
Sound Design: Killer Banshee Studios
Soundtrack Designer/Engineer: Biff Sanders

Silas Howard (Shy)
Harry Dodge (Valentine)
Stanya Kahn (Billie)
Carina Gia (Isabelle)
Cash Askew (Little Shy)
Misha Klein (Shy’s dad)
Miracle Malone (reporter)
Joan Jett (news interviewee)
Tina Marie (Ms Red)
Kris Kovick (crazy nut in park)
Machiko Saito (gun store clerk)
James Cotner (attacker)
Nancy Stone (lucky penny waitress)
Jimmy Broustis (hardware store clerk)
Carmen White (singer)
Sunny Haire (bartender)
Samuel Sheng (tired cop)
Josh Zinn (morose cop)

USA 2001
98 mins

The screening on Tue 15 Aug will be introduced by Zorian Clayton, BFI Flare Programmer

Tue 1 Aug 20:35 (+ pre-recorded intro by film critic Xuanlin Tham); Fri 11 Aug 20:30; Thu 31 Aug 18:10
Dog Day Afternoon
Wed 2 Aug 20:30; Thu 17 Aug 18:00; Sun 27 Aug 18:15
Chocolate Babies
Thu 3 Aug 20:30 (+ intro by season programmer Grace Barber-Plentie); Sat 19 Aug 20:50
Female Trouble
Sat 5 Aug 18:15; Thu 10 Aug 18:15 (+ intro by Justin Johnson, Lead Programmer); Fri 25 Aug 20:45
The Devil Queen (A Rainha Diaba)
Mon 7 Aug 20:40; Fri 18 Aug 18:10
By Hook or By Crook
Tue 8 Aug 20:50; Tue 15 Aug 18:20 (+ intro by Zorian Clayton, BFI Flare Programmer)
Madame Satã
Thu 10 Aug 20:40; Sun 20 Aug 12:30
Fresh Kill
Mon 14 Aug 20:40; Sun 27 Aug 13:20
The Bloodettes (Les Saignantes)
Tue 15 Aug 20:30; Mon 21 Aug 20:30
My Brother the Devil
Wed 16 Aug 20:40; Thu 24 Aug 17:50
On Guard
Thu 17 Aug 20:45; Mon 21 Aug 18:30
The Living End
Tue 22 Aug 20:40; Mon 28 Aug 14:30

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Programme notes and credits compiled by Sight and Sound and the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
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