Winnebago Man

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

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About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on July 13, 2010, in Documentary, New. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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