Umshini Wam - Bring Me My Machine Gun

Umshini Wam - Bring Me My Machine Gun

Postby CAP » Mon Mar 30, 2015 12:48 pm

This is just a 16 minute short available on You Tube (here) but I felt like reviewing it. It’s written and directed by Harmony Korine in 2010 – amazingly. It has to be the first thing I’ve seen of his that I’ve unreservedly liked (well there is one little frantic cross-cutting sequence in it, but that’s mercifully brief). A friend just sent me the link and not having heard of the South African Rap Duo – Die Antwoord – I assumed it was a little student short, uploaded as even I’d done in the past. But within a few minutes clearly the best student short I’d ever seen! I give it 9. It was only at the end where Korine is credited along with a substantial crew that I realised it was just a little too polished for a student short. On doing a little research, I assumed it was the influence of the stars - – husband and wife team ‘Ninja’ and Yo-Landi Visser that had steered the film clear of the worst of Korine’s excesses (ropey handheld camerawork, ragged jump-cuts, stilted staging) but this was not the case either. Korine wrote the thing and sent it to them, conceiving of them as the perfect vehicle for his vision. There’s a useful interview with director and stars here.

They didn’t initially go for the emotional stuff – when Ninja plays dead and Yo-Landi berates and sobs her love – but they are powerful and integral parts of this very strange little tableau of dependency and denial. It’s not realistic at all – it’s more like a kind of Post-Colonial Beckett play, in which two eternal outcasts, Ninja and Yo-Landi, hover at the outskirts of suburbia, dreaming or enacting a pathetic version of the Gangsta lifestyle – spliff and machine guns, but no sex – nothing properly adult. Rather, both are dressed in infant-like jump suits with cute animal mask hoods (these, I think occur in an earlier Korine movie – Gummo?) and they ride everywhere in wheelchairs, seemingly ignored by the world, or perhaps more accurately, in a vacuum. It is not clear that they are physically disabled, or for that matter, entirely able-bodied. It is more like the limits of their vision for cool or disrespect. Because of their poor white South African accents, the assumption is that the story is set in South Africa, but actually it’s shot somewhere like Tennessee, for some reason, I think something to do with trying to obtain the hologram hubcaps, which figure in the story. But whether we’re supposed to be in South Africa, or only a displaced South African community somewhere in America is part of the troubling disconnection between the two and their setting. Ninja and Yo-Landi bring their special South African slang (a mix of English, Afrikaans, Zulu and Xhosa) called Zef which adds to the unreal, displaced quality but it does not so much ridicule the concept of Gangsta (apparently a common interpretation of their music) as strip their own cultural identity of any stability or security. Gangsta may well be presented in an absurd, bastardised form, a pathetic fad for those in denial or regression, but Die Antwoord’s adoption only underlines a more profound insecurity. Gangsta is their escape from poor white South Africa, but also their prison in it. The wheelchairs emphasise the crippled, sidelined engagement with their world.

And basically it’s this weird play between the strange pretend-world of Ninja and Yo-Landi and the sheer indifference or perhaps indulgence by the rest of the world that animates this little story in which they rob and shoot a white South African man selling the latest electric wheelchairs and another selling hologram hubcaps only to escape into the night, back to the woods where they camp and reassure themselves that God has forgiven them. 8-)
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