Friday, November 11, 2011

Winnebago Man (2009)

Movie quotes:
"I don’t want any more bullshit anytime during the day from anyone… And that includes me."
- Jack Rebney as the Winnebago Man

At a glance:
The backstory of a man whose five minutes of swear-laced out-takes from a Winnebago sales video became a YouTube phenomenon

Our review (with spoilers):
I came into this film as (apparently) one of the few people who had never heard of Winnebago Man, the angry corporate sales video star whose out-takes became one of the most famous and popular viral videos on YouTube. Some of the footage of this frustrated, cursing man is shown at the beginning of the doco, and it did nothing for me. Jack Rebney seemed like a bombastic, angry, threatening, unfunny guy who would have been hell to work with. I was unsure if it would be worth my time to continue watching his story.

Was I ever wrong. By making this film, director Ben Steinbauer changed the public perception of Jack Rebney. Without this film, he is just a man whose five minutes of over the top anger out-takes, watched to infinity, defined him narrowly. For those fortunate enough to see this documentary (or to attend the Found Film Festival on the fateful night when Jack was a special guest), Jack Rebney becomes a real man, a complex man, a man balancing the conflicting desires of audience and isolation. He is a man infuriated by his unwanted celebrity, and angered by his belief that the USA is going downhill. Yet, despite his over the top anger, he is also a man who can laugh and keep things in perspective. And although unwilling at times, he is also a natural performer. By the end of the film, Jack has changed his opinion about his YouTube fans. He now sees them as clever, intelligent people. Likewise, his fans see him as a sweet angry grandpa, and not a movie star and a caricature.

In 1988, a powerful documentary called The Thin Blue Line made me believe that there could be no greater purpose for film than to shed light on a personal story or situation. Winnebago Man has that same feel and purpose. Perhaps the story is not as important this time, although both subjects were, in a way, in prisons of sorts. But this film has its own niche of importance. As well as fleshing out Jack Rebney, it also stands as a chronicle of these strange YouTube Viral Video times we live in. Even this shall change: there will be acceptance, or so many people will purposefully create goofy videos in an attempt to gain celebrity status that these innocent, truly random videos will be a thing of the past. The documentary Winnebago Man will not let that happen. So ‘do me a kindness’, and make sure you catch it.

Rating: 3.5 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"...a terrific character study. It also airs provocative meditations on the ramifications of living our lives via media. Steinbauer accomplishes both in this thoroughly entertaining feature debut."
- Laura Clifford (Reeling Reviews)


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