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Butching it up: with a little help from their friends, Harry Dodge and Silas Howard created the fierce lesbian buddy flick By Hook or by Crook. (television).

Remember those old Judy Garland--Mickey Rooney movies in which the youngsters would innocently decide to "put on a show" and the next thing you know they'd be doing full-scale Busby Berkeley musical numbers--in a barn?

That's not unlike the enthusiasm and blissful ignorance that overcame San Francisco--based Harriet "Harry" Dodge and Silas Howard in 1997, when they decided to make their movie, By Hook or by Crook, premiering June 28 on the Sundance Channel. Both of them had experience putting on shows--Harry as a performance artist and Silas as a member of the lesbian punk band Tribe 8--and they'd co-founded and co-owned the cafe-cabaret Red Dora's Bearded Lady, but neither had made so much as a student short before they set their sights on a feature film. And they weren't just going to produce it either but write, direct, and star as well.

"People did try to warn us," says Howard, 35, who goes by the nickname Flipper in her band. "I remember one filmmaker saying, `Go ahead and do it--it'll ruin your life.' I thought, God, she's bitter. But halfway through I realized how right she was."

Nonetheless, the fledgling auteurs--aided by lots of community support, a hardworking (and mostly female) crew, Go Fish cinematographer Ann T. Rossetti, producer Steak House (yes, that's her name), and consulting producers Jenni Olson and Annie Imhoff--managed to complete the ambitious By Hook or by Crook. It's already been a Sundance Film Festival selection and won awards at several other filmfests, and this fall it may receive a limited theatrical release.

Crook is an artsy genre film, but of the buddy-buddy variety rather than a typical dyke romance. Shy (played by Howard) is a Brandon Teena sort, if Brandon had been wise enough to take the bus all the way to San Francisco--a handsome butch with a larcenous streak. S/he befriends Valentine (Dodge), a sweet, philosophy-spouting oddball with a small goatee and a tenuous grip on sanity. Valentine helps Shy rob stores and vending machines. Shy helps Val find her/his birth mother. Each offers the other unconditional acceptance.

"We wanted to make our stamp on butch representation and have a little more visibility," says Dodge, 36, who appeared in John Waters's Cecil B. Demented and has been described by that director as being "very handsome." Although there is romance in Crook, the film emphasizes the nonsexual friendship between the "guys."

"Not only do queers come out and do all this other stuff, but they also have friends!" says Dodge. "In a way it's a celebration of our friendship, which has been going on for 13 years. The movie is fiction, but it draws its inspiration from our real lives." Dodge, like Valentine, is still searching for her birth mother, and in the film Shy uses Dodge's actual birth name and birth date in calls to find Valentine's mom.

Despite the overt butchness of the characters, the filmmakers' goal is less to have audiences focus on gender transgression than to have them forget about gender and concentrate on universal human experience. "We really wanted to make a piece of art together that was going to reach out and touch people's hearts," says Dodge. "We were interested in making characters who weren't just gay but were way beyond that. We wanted to show them as complex people with a full range of emotions--pathos, humor."

"So many people have felt they don't fit in whether they look that way [butch] or not," says Howard. "I think the film is about that."

Kort is the author of Soul Picnic: The Music and Passion of Laura Nyro (Dunne Books).
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Article Details
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Author:Kort, Michelle
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 25, 2002
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