By Hook or by Crook
Much has transpired since By Hook or By Crook (BHOBC) premiered at Sundance in 2001, igniting the festival scene with its sweet, scrappy tale of outsider buddies bounding about the bars and back alleys of pre-Boom San Francisco: depictions of gender variance, like those in BHOBC, have found greater visibility on big and small screens alike. BHOBC writer-directors Silas Howard and Harry Dodge have gone on to exceptional transmedia careers — Howard in film (Sunset Stories) and TV (Transparent and Frameline41 selection More Than T) and Dodge in art (2008 Whitney Biennial) and academia (California Institute of the Arts). San Francisco has changed too — with disappeared spaces like the legendary Lexington Club thankfully preserved in BHOBC in all its divine dive bar glory.
What has remained constant since 2001, however, is BHOBC’s unique oddball vision, clever dialogue and effusive charm. Ahead of its time in its evocation of an unabashed queer universe that dares to just be, BHOBC tells the story of two trans-butches, Shy (Howard) and Valentine (Dodge), who collide by chance in the San Francisco streets. Shy is immersed in daydreams about the loving father they lost and Valentine is searching for the mother they never met. Like-hearted mischievous souls, the pair stumbles into a series of shambolic shenanigans — along with Valentine’s girlfriend, Billie (Stanya Kahn) — sidestepping sadness with wit and wackadoo.
One-time fixtures of the San Francisco subcultural scene, Dodge and Howard were the forces behind beloved performance/gathering spot Red Dora’s Bearded Lady. Howard was also one of the rebel rockers in notorious queercore outfit Tribe 8. Building on these outlaw legacies, BHOBC displays a true affinity for the misfits and the marginalized — a rare film not only about, but by, lovable weirdos on the fringe.
This film is a recipient of a Frameline Completion Fund grant.
— CURRAN NAULT