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By Merle Bertrand | March 9, 2002

Tiny dead-end towns must be the worst place in the world to grow up as a homosexual. Nosy neighbors with closed minds and a dearth of anyone to meet often conspire to drive any but the most committed gay man or lesbian homebody to the relative safety in numbers of the big city.
Shy (Silas Howard), a tough and tattooed butch lesbian, certainly didn’t need much convincing. With the recent death of her father and the bank foreclosing on her house, she’s gone way before the bank’s forty-eight hour eviction notice takes effect. Now broke and on the mean streets of San Francisco, she stumbles across Valentine (Harry Dodge), a slight, fast-talking person of uncertain gender who’s getting the snot kicked out of him. They forge an unlikely friendship that survives even the subtle jealousy that’s apparent when Valentine introduces Shy to his lover, Billie.
Desperate to make some money, Shy involves her new cohorts in a series of harmless petty crimes. While he goes along with this, the only thing Valentine really cares about is his half-hearted, half-fearful search to find his birth mother. Even the big city isn’t anonymous enough to allow stand-out-in-a-crowd characters like this bunch to hide, as the law eventually catches up with them. As Valentine languishes in a mental hospital, Billie blames Shy…who plots a way out for them all.
San Francisco filmmakers Dodge and Howard have assembled a film that is unlikely to have an impact beyond its Bay area, lesbian-friendly audience. Still, “By Hook or By Crook” is a weirdly compelling train wreck of a film that’s as raw around the edges as its protagonists. The pacing is a little sluggish, the story a little thin and padded, the cinematography a lot crude. Nonetheless, there’s a certain punk DIY attitude that peeks through the film’s dirty windows. This is due primarily to the performances of Howard and especially Dodge, whose rapid fire, stream of consciousness poetic ramblings almost, but never quite make sense.
“By Hook or By Crook” is the kind of film that requires a lot of work and patience on behalf of the viewer, not to mention a willingness to set aside prejudices and the fear inherent when we meet people different from us. As such, while you may not necessarily like “By Hook or By Crook,” you won’t forget it, either.

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