Cinepub


Documental: Winnebago Man by Jamie

I’ve said it before, the internet is probably the greatest thing mankind has ever created that isn’t directly responsible for saving lives. It allows for almost instant communication, instant dissemination and sharing of news and information and, of course, mountains and mountains of pornography. So much pornography. It also unites people across borders through that most simple of pleasures, the humiliation of others.

Yes, for every internet success there is the other side. For every internet entrepenuer who has amassed billions of dollars, there are those who have become the subjects of ridicule because clips of them that they thought would never see the light of day have become viral video sensations. For every Mark Zuckerberg there is a Star Wars Kid or, indeed, a Winnebago Man. Who is the Winnebago Man? Well, hopefully this clip will clear that up. It is most certainly not safe for work…

That is the Winnebago Man. That clip of outtakes from a 1989 industrial film for the Winnebago company would become a viral video sensation thanks to copies of the original video tape being passed around and eventually reach millions more with the invention of YouTube. It would also become something of an obsession for a film maker by the name of Ben Steinbauer who became determined to find the star of the clip, a man by the name of Jack Rebney, a determination which would give rise to the documentary ‘Winnebago Man’.

He begins his search by investigating a number of avenues. He asks around people who have passed around copies of the tape in the first place and some crew members who worked on the original film. On this journey he also investigates the effect that the viral video had on individuals and on pop-culture in general, including a number of references to it in movies and TV shows. He also investigates the effect that a viral video can have on the often unwilling subjects such as the case of Aleksey Vayner whose boastful video resume ‘The Impossible is Possible’ became a viral hit much to the humiliation of Vayner himself. He apparently even received death threats via e-mail. Yes, the viral video world is not for the timid, which is a shame because often the star has no choice.

But what of the Winnebago Man? His obscenity-laced tirades certainly didn’t seem to indicate he was a timid man. Did he even know he was an internet star? Was he even still alive? After coming up with nothing but dead ends regarding Rebney’s current location, Steinbauer turned to a private investigator to hopefully shed some light on the subject. The PI found a number of post boxes in the man’s name and so the film maker decided to send a letter to each of them. Eventually, he got a response.

And so he got his chance to meet the man, the mystery, the enigma, the Winnebago Man himself, Jack Rebney. And he got to interview him and ask him what he knew about the video and all that. And he found Rebney to be an affable, charming old man, perhaps a little odd because he had become something of a hermit living alone in the mountains but other than that, a perfectly likeable older gentleman. So Steinbauer left after getting his footage, somewhat disappointed that even though Jack Rebney was still alive, it seemed as though the Winnebago Man was dead.

Then he got another message from Jack. In it he explained that he had basically put on a front for the camera and he was actually incredibly pissed off about his internet fame and the world he felt was falling into absolute disrepair. It turned out the foul-mouthed Winnebago Man was very much alive and so Steinbauer finally got his chance to meet him.

And that’s pretty much where I’ll leave the synopsis. I’ll just say that Jack is perhaps even more of the curmudgeon you’d expect him to be from the Winnebago Man clips. He’s sweary, angry and yet also strangely charming and seems able to switch between the two with the flip of a switch. His temper never really seems particularly malicious or at least not overly so. It’s just the way he reacts to the world around him. He views the fans of his outtake clips as a bunch of slack-jawed morons and can’t understand what they possibly enjoy about the video. This all comes to a head when he’s flown out to the Found Footage Festival in San Francisco and he’s brought face to face with his fans.

Now, Winnebago Man isn’t necessarily the most well made or most structured documentary in the world but I don’t think that’s really the fault of the film maker. I think it’s merely a side effect of making a film with a person like Jack Rebney, a man who seems completely unwilling to talk about himself or his past, for the most part, preferring instead to get his message about the evils in the world like Wal-Mart or Dick Cheney. He just seems like a difficult person to work with though ultimately a rewarding subject for the documentary. Throughout the whole film you can’t help but like Jack because, like I said, there doesn’t seem to be anything malicious behind his outbursts. That’s just who he is. The film also has one of the sweetest endings I’ve seen in sometime from a documentary and it honestly brought a few tears to my eyes.

If I had to compare it to another film I’d seen in recent times, I’d probably say ‘Best Worst Movie’ the documentary about the cult following of Troll 2 except kind of in reverse. In that film the main subject, George Hardy, is delighted by his fame and is eager to meet his fans. Jack Rebney, not so much. So all in all it’s an engaging documentary about an intriguing and interesting character but also a nice little study on this new world of viral video fame and how it effects their often unwilling or even unknowing stars. Four and a half pints out of five. Laterz.

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