Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Winnebago Man

by Drew Martin
I just watched Winnebago Man, (click left to see the trailer) a documentary about Jack Rebney, who is also known as "the angriest man in the world."

Rebney was a CBS newsman for part of his career. In 1989 he represented Winnebago for television advertisements. During a blistering summertime filming in the woods of Iowa, Rebney cursed at everything that moved. The handful of young men on the crew decided to keep the camera rolling to capture his raw exclamations. These outtakes were then compiled onto a VHS tape that was sent to the senior management of Winnebago, who promptly fired Rebney and spurred him to retreat to a cabin in northern California. Rebney was separated from his cult fame and lived like a recluse for two decades until he was tracked down by the filmmaker, Ben Steinbauer. 

The original tape of Rebney was copied and circulated around the States (and abroad) and spread like wildfire. Once YouTube was developed, it was posted there and went viral with millions of hits.  As the documentary unfolds, the rediscovered Rebney agrees to meet with Steinbauer but what we find is a calm and reflective old man at peace with himself. The moment is anticlimactic but also promising. Steinbauer returns home somewhat empty handed but is soon contacted by Rebney who claims he sugarcoated his interview and presented a "Mary Poppins" version of himself.  The cantankerous old man is alive and well and ready to speak up. So Steinbaurer returns to Rebney’s cabin and continues the film, which peaks with him making an appearance at a small theater where videos such as Rebney’s outtakes are shown.

Winnebago Man is an interesting film about media. It speaks to the transition of film/video to the immediacy of the Internet, cyber-bullying, a community based on a shared, mediated experience and the lives of people behind the sound bytes and captured glimpses. Rebney insists that only complete losers would be interested in his outtakes and is surprised to find quick-witted die-hard fans who explain that his video is what they turn to when they are down.

The introduction credit sequence is nicely done. It is a montage of classic Winnebago shots and footage spliced with the credits using the Winnebago stripe motif, such as the still pictured above (which has been altered to fit in the image square) and is charged with the song Winnebago Warrior by the Dead Kennedys.