By Hook or By Crook can be read as an example of New Queer Cinema mainly because of the way in which the film engages with unapologetic, seemingly defiant “queer” representations that encompass the theme of intersectionality and test the boundaries of how film tells stories of interlocking violences or marginal identities. In Michelle Aaron’s introduction Aaron describes New Queer Cinema as a genre of film “no longer burdened by the approval seeking sackcloth of positive imagery or the relative obscurity of marginal production.” (Aaron, 3) Aaron goes on to describe the way in which New Queer Cinema as a genre gave voice to marginal identities and characters not only by depicting queer sexual “minorities” but by also engaging with different sub-groups within these marginal communities and identities. By Hook or By Crook fits this criteria of New Queer Cinema to say the least, particularly because of its engagement with disability, gender expression, and sexuality, all of which are constructed in the film in a very unapologetic way even amidst overtly portrayed hardship and violence.
The title of the film in itself, which translates to “By any means necessary,” exemplifies an air of unapologetic marginal existence, a gritty proclamation that seems to suggest, “I don’t need your pity or approval.” And this is exactly how the two main characters in the film carry themselves and behave. Both Shy and Valentine display palpable burdens. The movie begins with Shy fleeing or leaving behind her small hometown in what seems like a search for community and sense of acceptance that perhaps San Francisco has to offer. Likewise, Valentine is in search of her mother and shows evidence of severe disability. Both Shy and Valentine have “butch” gender expression and are portrayed as being queer in terms of their sexuality. Both are affected by violence in the film.
None of these “burdens” however are pitied or even explained throughout the film. Herein lies what makes By Hook or By Crook a perfect fit for the New Queer Cinema genre. As an audience we watch a very real, very gritty livelihood play out in an unsettling way. We receive no neatly packaged explanation about the aspects of Shy and Valentine’s intersecting “marginal” identities and we receive no resolution to the interlocking violences that both Shy and Valentine face, violences that as an audience we have been largely trained to pity and “other,” as we search for an imminent solution to make our own discomfort with Shy and Valentine’s reality dissipate. Judith Halberstam perhaps illustrates this best in describing By Hook or By Crook as a film that “…resists the seduction of crying games and the lure of sentiment.” (Halberstam, 93). In other words, the queerness of this film is very much set in a queer world where there is little room for tears, apologetic existence or for any storyline or plot to grow out of pity.
In addition to being characterized as a New Queer Cinema film because of its “air of defiance,” By Hook or By Crook also fits other New Queer Cinema technical criteria. As Halberstam outlines, the film was very low-budget, low-tech, and shot in mini digital video with pans that bluntly “universalize queerness.” One seen that Halberstam focuses on that largely stood out to me during the film is the scene at the well-known Lexington Bar. Halberstam writes, “The camera lovingly pans a scene of punky, pierced, tattooed, perverted young queers. The montage lasts longer than necessary signaling that the beauty and intrinsic worth of this world transcends its diegetic purpose.” (Halberstam 95) This eloquent description synthesizes my own reaction to the scene, a scene that I can remember feeling intimately apart of rather than merely exposed to while watching. Halberstam contrasts this bar scene with a bar scene in the film, The Crying Game, a film that positions the bar as “a place of perversion and a primal sense of deception,” rather than “an alternative vision of community, space, time, and identity,” as directors Dodge and Howard accomplish in By Hook or By Crook. I think it would be interesting to contrast the genre conventions of The Crying Game with By Hook or By Crook to further analyze what sets New Queer Cinema apart from other genres in terms of dealing with both queer representations and unapologetic intersectionality. Below is a link that features a trailer for the film The Crying Game, a more mainstream cinema film that deals with intersectionality in a very different way than By Hook or By Crook. The trailer in itself features contrasting elements of higher budget filmmaking, dramatic music and seemingly boxing identity portrayals. Check it out!
Judith Halberstam. In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives. NY: NYU Press, 2005. 92-96.
New Queer Cinema: A Critical Reader Ed. Michele Aaron. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2004. 3-14.