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Review: ‘Winnebago Man’

Documentary Looks to a Viral Video Star

Above: Jack Rebney is "Winnebago Man"

Audio

Aired 7/29/10

You may not know Jack Rebney’s name but there’s a good chance you or someone you know has seen him on YouTube. The new documentary “Winnebago Man" (opening July 30 at Landmark' Hillcrest Cinemas) focuses on a viral video superstar.

You may not know Jack Rebney’s name but there’s a good chance you or someone you know has seen him on YouTube. The new documentary “Winnebago Man" (opening July 30 at Landmark' Hillcrest Cinemas) focuses on a viral video superstar.

Before the Internet there was VHS.

Ben Steinbauer: “For almost twenty years VHS tapes were passed hand to hand all over the country. The tapes were copied and copied and copied till the images were so degraded that by the time I got a tape it looked like this...”

The tape filmmaker Ben Steinbauer got was of Jack Rebney. But people were more likely to know him as that RV Guy. In 1988, Rebney was an RV salesman shooting video for a Winnebago sales tape. But the shoot went badly and Rebney’s foul-mouthed outbursts were cut into an outtake reel that circulated on VHS in the nineties.

Fans:“If you loved the tape you would make as many dubs as you could and give it out to everyone you can… it moves like a virus…”

But a slow moving virus that required you to have direct contact with the person passing it on.

Ben Steinbauer: “Then in 2005 YouTube came along and Jack became a viral video phenomenon.”

Suddenly, information and videos could be shared instantly across the globe and in a manner that could be downright scary. Steinbauer became fascinated not only with Rebney but with the impact the Internet could have on ordinary individuals. Take this overweight teen who shot a video of himself pretending to have a light saber battle. The video got millions of hits and web users embellished it with visual and audio effects. But Star Wars Kid, as he came to be known, was devastated and had to enter into therapy. It marked the beginning of what would be known as "cyber bullying."

Steinbauer explores this strange viral world where Andy Worhol’s notion of everyone getting his or her fifteen minutes of fame takes on a whole new meaning. Some of these unintentional celebrities are ill-prepared for fame. And there’s not much they can do. They can embrace it, retreat from it, or pray it all blows over.

Viral video superstar Jack Rebney

Kino

Above: Viral video superstar Jack Rebney

When Steinbauer plays Rebney’s YouTube video, people immediately recognized him.

Man: "Oh I’ve seen this hundreds of times, this guy’s a legend…"

Whether he wants it or not, Rebney becomes a viral video superstar.

Ben Steinbauer: “He became known as the Winnebago Man or the RV guy or most outrageously as the angriest man in the world… (montage of expletives deleted).”

So Steinbauer decides to track Rebney down to see if this YouTube noteriety has made an impact on Rebney’s life.

Jack Rebney (on phone answering machine): “This is Jack Rebney. It’s inconceivable to me that you would have any interest in this but if you want to talk I’m interested.”

Steinbauer finds Rebney living alone in the woods with his dog. At first, Rebney attempts to convey a very different image of himself from that in the video. He tries to cut a figure of contentment. But with additional visits the façade slips, and we realize the outtakes weren’t showing Rebney on a bad day. In his interviews with Steinbauer, Rebney rants and raves about everything but mostly about Dick Cheney. The result is a funny and poignant documentary about a man railing against society and stupidity.

Steinbauer sees Rebney as just one of many people made accidentally famous by the Internet. Rebney is both suspicious of and annoyed by the attention. He thinks his so-called fans are idiots and wishes he could better control the message he’s sending out.

Filmmaker Ben Steinbauer with Jack Rebney

Kino

Above: Filmmaker Ben Steinbauer with Jack Rebney

“Winnebago Man” is a hilarious film. It explores viral celebrity and the odd interplay between the reluctant subjects of YouTube videos and the people who keep clicking the play button and passing the video on. Part of the documentary is about Steinbauer trying to get his fifteen minutes of fame by riding Rebney’s coat tails. And that adds a layer of absurdity to the film. Sure Steinbauer is giving us a good human story but the filmmaker also seems to be waiting with baited breath for some new footage of the angriest man in the world that he can post to YouTube. But part of what makes the film fun and surprising is that Rebney is no sitting duck oblivious to his exploitation. He’s a wary curmudgeon with an agenda all his own.

Companion viewing: "King of Kong," "Roger and Me,"

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