Cult infamy and accidental celebrity take a turn under the microscope in
Winnebago Man, an intriguing documentary from Ben Steinbauer that takes
a look at Jack Rebney, the foulmouthed “star” of a viral sensation
that Christian Bale, in a moment of more good-natured reflection, could likely appreciate. Hired in the late 1980s to host a series of industrial videos for
Winnebago’s RV campers, Rebney repeatedly lost his temper in the
sweltering Iowa summer heat, and his crew — half out of irritation at
his antics, half out of bemusement — left the camera rolling.
outtakes became an underground sensation, traded around on VHS tapes,
and, starting around 1995, became a huge hit on YouTube, generating
millions of views. Quirky sayings of Rebney’s (“Would you do me a kindness?”) infiltrated mainstream pop culture in stealth fashion, popping up as dialogue of low-key homage in films like 2004’s Surviving Christmas. With Winnebago Man, Steinbauer tracks down the heretofore unexamined
Rebney living in semi-seclusion in northern California, where he
initially claims to know nothing of his strange demi-celebrity. Again
given a stage, though, Rebney soon roars to life.
The original clips are funny because in them the savvy viewer recognizes, perhaps if even just on a subliminal level, the public presentation of a very private anger (“Why don’t I say it fucking right? My mind is just a piece of shit!”). Steinbauer, though, never really seems to work up either a cogent thesis statement or tack of inquiry, and thus the film bears the marks of a serial noodler. Early, promising strands seeming to offer some greater sense of contextualization in the Internet celebrity age give way to little more than a travelogue, in which Steinbauer and a longtime friend of Rebney’s coax and cajole him into attending a special San Francisco festival screening of his clips and other video curios, despite the fact that his eyesight is failing.
Even as Steinbauer becomes closer to his subject, and tries to interject biographical details of Rebney (like his past work as a local news journalist), the essence of the man remains curiously distant. (Unlike, say, his anger at Vice President Dick Cheney and the Bush administration, which he wants to forcefully articulate.) If it’s a bit hairy and slapdash, the emergent portrait of Rebney still offers a glimpse forward at the next generation of Andy Warhol’s famous assertion regarding fame, when one person’s 15 minutes in the spotlight can now become a frozen-in-time, perpetual humiliation — either good-naturedly owned or forever an irritant.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, Winnebago Man comes to DVD presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, with a 5.1 stereo surround sound audio mix. Its supplemental bonus features consist of the full, 25-minute 1989 Winnebago sales video, the movie’s theatrical trailer and a 15-minute Q&A from Winnebago Man‘s New York theatrical premiere, in which Michael Moore and Jeff Garlin appear to introduce the movie and Rebney appears afterward. A bit more material with Steinbaur, and maybe some more of his chats with the production crew from the original Winnebago video and/or talking heads looking at comparative examples of web-clip celebrity would have been nice complementary inclusions. To view the trailer and/or purchase the DVD, click here. Or if Amazon and only Amazon is totally your thing, meanwhile, click here. B- (Movie) B- (Disc)