I could not believe that someone actually made a documentary about the Winnebago Man. Some time ago a friend emailed me a link to the Winnebago Man reel. The reel, shot in the 1980s, shows a frustrated RV (recreational vehicle) spokesman having a really bad day. The man, Jack Rebney, was shooting an industrial commercial for Winnebago vehicles. Rebney kept forgetting his lines and, frustrated, let loose with a hilariously ludicrous litany of curses at several points during the shoot.
A reel of Rebney’s rants was edited together and distributed to crew-members on VHS tape. The tapes were copied numerous times and gained an underground following in the pre-Internet days. Years later Winnebago Man became an Internet “viral video” meaning that, much like a virus, it spread from one person to another. Cable channel VH-1 voted it the third best viral video. One can go to YouTube, put in “Winnebago Man” and see it.
As “Winnebago Man,” the documentary, points out, when we see a YouTube clip all we know about the subject is what we see for the short length of the clip. Generally we take a formalist approach to these clips, meaning that we evaluate them for what they are without knowing anything about their background.
Filmmaker Ben Steinbauer, a fan of the Winnebago Man reel, wanted to find the story behind these infamous rants. He went in search of and found Rebney as well as crew members from the long ago shoot. Rebney, now in his 70s, lives a hermit’s existence atop a mountain in California. Rebney comes across as a likeable old curmudgeon who is conflicted. He wants to be alone but also wants to take advantage of his celebrity and be heard. The result is a very funny and thoughtful film that is both a personal documentary and a meditation on modern day Internet fame where someone caught on camera doing something embarrassing can be broadcast all over the world without their consent or control. In contrast to Rebney’s obscenity filled rants we are also shown some of the edited footage of the finished commercial in which Rebney comes across as a calm, confident, self-assured spokesman.
“Winnebago Man” is an insightful documentary that will be of interest to Winnebago Man fans as well as newcomers to the Winnebago Man phenomenon.
Winnebago Man, Director Ben Steinbauer, 2010,
Kino Intermational, 85 minutes