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Get a glimpse of NO LEASH, Mykki Blanco’s wild HBA film

Directed by Cody Critcheloe, the frenetic, psychedelic ode to modern America made in 2015 had been lost – but premieres today on Dazed with two exclusive clips

“It’s like the American value system of celebrity over morals. That whole entire machine feels like a tabloid and almost voyeuristic in a way.” Mykki Blanco is talking about No Leash, the new short film he stars in, screened in partnership with Dazed for the first time at Miranda at the Ace Hotel in Shoreditch, last week. It is the morning after the night when we spoke to the rapper, performance artist and activist – and he is still trying to process it all. “The people who worked at the Ace were telling us even though they’ve had queues before, they’ve never had queues all the way down the block.” Produced by New York label Hood By Air and directed by Cody Critcheloe, it’s one wild ride.

It was Critcheloe – the founder of creative musical platform SSION – who gave Blanco his first big break, casting him for a project called “Bent” shown at the MoMa PS1 in 2011. Critcheloe made contact with Blanco again in 2014, after being commissioned by HBA’s founder Shayne Oliver for a film project. Who better to pick as the star than an artist who has been friends with Oliver since he was a teenager? “I really respect him as an artist, writer, performer,” Critcheloe shared with us. “To me, he’s like the anti-perfect superstar.”

“There are so many hardcore tropes of being an American, and it’s such an American thing to saturate an image or commercial with a brand or logo” – Mykki Blanco 

Cast and shot over five days, No Leash was filmed in Kansas City (Missouri, not Kansas), home to Critcheloe for a number of years and chosen for its “queer underbelly”. The perversity of shooting an unapologetically queer, visceral and fucked-up-sexy film in a Midwestern setting is reminiscent of John Waters’ work and his films could easily have been a source of inspiration. The irony didn’t go unnoticed by Blanco either. “These are like really conservative places and Cody has always been able to thrive and make things work there,” he says.

No Leash is more than just another fashion film, but an ambitious, hyperactive comment on modern America. Mostly unscripted, the parts that were came from interviews with people like Courtney Love. “We basically just collaged quotes from Joan Didion, transcripts from the Anna Nicole Smith trial, and supposed last words from famous people before they died,” Critcheloe explained. For Blanco, the film was an ode to his 2014 mixtape Gay Dog Food, which at the time he didn’t have a chance to create any videos for. No Leash was his chance to make up for it, and in twelve minutes it packs in a lot. There’s an impromptu performance of Lady Gaga’s “Judas” (Cody’s favourite scene), gossipy Kansas City moms (Mykki’s favourite) and a monologue at the end about “fucking Chanel” and how fashion is only kept alive by the streets.

Blanco describes it as an “Americana dream sequence” and the more you watch and rewatch the more you pick up on. Diet Coke, Paramount, Stephen Sprouse, baseball, Madonna and Warhol are all classic corporate America tropes dotted across the movie. Critcheloe explains that it was a pastiche of everything he was obsessed with at the time when the film started coming together. “The Anna Nicole Smith trial when she's trying to get the money from her dead billionaire husband… also circuit parties, meth, and Kate Gosselin’s hair, which Mykki has at one point and which looks stunning! I'm sure there was a folder on my desktop filled with influences that made their way in.” And while some of the references scream stars and stripes – like the bedside portraits of Marilyn Monroe and James Dean – it is the more subtle references that make it really pop – yes, that bathroom diary sequence is a reference to Brandy’s Moesha. “There are so many hardcore tropes of being an American, and it’s such an American thing to saturate an image or commercial with a brand or logo,” Mykki mused. 

The psychedelic product placement, and the oversaturated and saccharine aesthetic means that the film races along at 100mph. While it wasn’t planned to be released in a President Trump-era America, the timing couldn’t be better, and Blanco obviously agrees – “it feels so pertinent now”. Of course, the artist is no stranger to political statements, you only need to listen to his music or watch his performance of Zoe Leonard’s I Want a Dyke for President to figure that out. But this wasn’t meant to be a balls-to-the-wall political project, “I’m always into work that vocalises those kind of things without being overtly literal and I feel like the film is really queer in many ways that isn’t overt”.

More importantly than the subtle political message the film portrays, the main takeaway was that it makes people feel. Last week, being the first time the film was screened to a large audience made that clear. “People were screaming, talking to the screen, laughing, taking videos on their phones,” Blanco excitedly explained. And watching the film it is easy to see why he’s so pumped. “It made me feel like even though this is a twelve minute short it feels like some kind of cult classic in the making...I want the queer kids to see the film.” Critcheloe was as equally excited: “It's more of a mood than a film really and I think that's what provokes the audience to act out...honestly, I love the entire thing. it's kinda like a can of worms… a very saturated can of worms. It's a great hype piece for something that follows.”

Keep an eye out for announcements for further screenings