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By Hook or by Crook   B

Artistic License Films / Steakhaus Productions

Year Released: 2002
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Directors: Harry Dodge, Silas Howard
Writers: Harry Dodge, Silas Howard, Stanya Kahn
Cast: Silas Howard, Harry Dodge, Stanya Kahn, Carina Gia.

Review by Michael Scrutchin

By Hook or by Crook follows Shy (Silas Howard of queer-punk band Tribe 8), a butch lesbian with fear-of-abandonment issues, as she escapes her drab small-town life and heads to San Francisco in hopes of embarking on a life of crime. Once there, she quickly becomes friends with Valentine (Harriet "Harry" Dodge), a mentally unstable woman with a goatee who's on a quest to find her birth mother. Shy lures Valentine and Val's feminine girlfriend Billie (Stanya Kahn) into a petty crime spree that starts with using Super Soakers to sabotage Coke machines.

The movie can be frustrating at times -- especially in the beginning, since it's tough not to feel alienated by characters so quirky and mentally unhinged. In fact, it wasn't until about halfway through the film's 98 minutes that I began to fall for the characters and care about them. Thanks to strong, passionate performances by Howard and Dodge, Shy and Valentine evolve into three-dimensional human beings, however eccentric or off-putting they may seem at first. The film has a fun sense of humor and the dialogue sometimes crackles with literary wit, but there's also an affecting emotional weight that sneaks up on you.

Although it's shot on digital video, cinematographer Ann T. Rosetti gives the movie such a rich, textured look that I had initially assumed that it was shot on 16mm film. The handheld camerawork, jumpy editing, blaring soundtrack, and stream-of-consciousness pacing all contribute to By Hook or by Crook's often intoxicating DIY punk rock aesthetic. Sure, it's rough around the edges, but that's part of its charm. When Joan Jett's cover of the classic Replacements song "Androgynous" began playing over the end credits, I got chills, feeling both happy and sad, and I couldn't help but wish the best for Shy and Valentine.

Review published 10.24.2002.

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