Short films by musicians, whether you think they’re brilliant or stupid, have now become medium–bending art events frequently analyzed for profound artistic messages. “Umshini Wam,” the latest bizarre creation from the self–styled “ninja rap” group Die Antwoord, is sure to inspire the same sort of search inspired by Kanye West’s similarly bizarre short “Runaway” last year.
In terms of sheer ridiculousness, there are few (if any) acts that rival the hyperbolic South African rap duo. And the film, which premiered last week at the South by Southwest Music Festival, is a cinematic articulation of that manic oddness.
The short features the duo rolling around like ninja vagrants in bright onesies, smoking comically huge joints and shooting up store clerks to get holographic rims for their wheelchairs, which they appear to be bound to. Like after “Runaway,” when the 15–minute film was over I wasn’t totally sure what to make of it. Honestly, the piece was well done — could it be a landmark display of bizarre minimalist filmmaking? On the other hand, it could just as easily be a stupid vehicle for a pair of insane, faux–gangsta Afrikaners to be as outrageous as possible in order to mess with an art–seeking public.
Indeed, these are tough times for that public: in an age of Kanyes and Die Antwoords, of Joaquin Phoenixes and Charlie Sheens, the line between authentic art and ridiculous stunt has effectively been blurred. Maybe it’s time to put down those precious artistic message lenses: sometimes, just marveling at the absurdity of wheelchair–bound ninjas is enough.