Winnebago Man

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How soon after watching the latest YouTube fad does it withdraw from memory? If the video is extraordinary, maybe you carry it around for a few weeks, remembering to queue it up for everyone you know in the hope of sharing a communal wince or laugh. I forget most of these videos a half hour after watching. There have been several occasions I’ve found myself doubled over, half-paralyzed with laughter, but I just don’t have the capacity to remember it. My mind is filled with too much other junk. But every once in a while a video comes along and stays with me long after the mishap, blooper or horrible crash has ended. Winnebago Man is one of those videos.

You’ve seen it. You laughed at it. You emailed a link to everyone in your address book. The fuzzy VHS recording is a compilation of outtakes that show a balding, irate, 50-something, Jack Rebney, having a very bad day on the set of an RV video shoot. In disgust with his verbal missteps, Jack flaps his arms like a bird and drops the f-bomb with such ease, I’m soon jealous. Cursing is an art for him. It’s very funny. I’m not sure where the humor comes from; he is clearly having the worst possible day. I think we find it charming because we can all easily relate. Most of us silently fume while Rebney, on the other hand, lets the rage loose on everyone and anyone near him.

Ben Steinbauer, director, is fascinated by “the angriest man in the world.” He watches the video on repeat. He becomes infatuated with the idea of tracking down Jack Rebney. The quest becomes a documentary. Ben starts out interviewing “Winnebago Man” enthusiasts, and it turns out this little YouTube video had a cult-life of its own as the original VHS cassette. It was passed around by hand over and over again. Some of the copies are so beat up, the audio crackles and the screen flickers.

Some disagree with Ben and his journey to track down Jack. Jack shouldn’t exist as a real person — it ruins the experience. He isn’t a man; he’s a video. Something that exists solely for the purpose of making us laugh. But Ben’s fascination keeps him moving.

Jack isn’t a man you can locate simply by cracking the yellow pages. Ben eventually hires a P.I. who uncovers a few small leads that ultimately lead to a mountainside in northern California. I won’t give away too many details, except to say that the Jack Rebney we meet in the mountains is indeed the man from YouTube. Jack is simultaneously exactly the person you thought he’d be and completely the opposite.

Winnebago Man
is structured very well; each detail Ben uncovers is a little more surprising than the last. The editing is tight, leaving the story to unfold like a perfectly crafted screenplay. Ben lucked out a bit with Jack. He could have been a regular, otherwise, boring old man, curled up on a mountain with a pipe and a dog. This is not the case. Jack Rebney is a man unlike anyone you have ever met, but will still remind you of the grandpa or uncle whom without Christmas and Thanksgiving are never the same. A man with no safety catch on his mouth, a human “jack” in the box. You wind up the crank with trepidation, and each half-pull brings you closer to a string of obscenities that would make Lenny Bruce blush.

Winnebago Man asks questions about our new world of Internet celebrity and fads that last not months, but hours. Ultimately the film is about Jack Rebney. He’s a man who demands attention and enraptures us when he finds it. Winnebago Man is a fascinating look at a strange, smart, witty, angry man, who just happened to have a very, very bad day caught on video. I, for one, am thankful it was so hot that day… and the flies… those “fuckin’ flies.”

Directed by Ben Steinbauer

tags: Ben Steinbauer, jack rebney, winnebago man

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