By Don Simpson | August 4, 2010
Director: Ben Steinbauer
Writers: Malcolm Pullinger, Ben Steinbauer
Starring: Jack Rebney, Ben Steinbauer, Keith Gordon, Nick Prueher, Joe Pickett, Douglas Rushkoff, Charlie Sotelo, Cinco Barnes, Alan Berliner, Mike Mitchell, Alexsey Vayner
The bootleg VHS footage of an angry RV salesman’s expletive-riddled rants rescued from the cutting room floor of a Winnebago commercial garnered cult acclaim via The Found Footage Festival and Austin’s infamous access television program The Show With No Name; then YouTube came along and skyrocketed the footage and the RV salesman man, Jack Rebney (dubbed “the angriest man in the world”), to international stardom. Some fans boast to have watched the foul footage thousands of times, others claim it is their surefire cure to a bad day at work.
No one seemed to care about the man himself (nor did Rebney care about his fan base); that is until writer-director Ben Steinbauer decided to make it his mission to introduce the man to his loyal legions. Steinbauer tracks down Rebney (who, except for a trail of PO Boxes, had all but fallen completely off the grid) living in tranquil seclusion high atop a Northern California mountain. At first Steinbauer finds Rebney curiously sedate and peaceful, with nary a curse in his vocabulary. It feels like a ruse and that’s exactly what its. So, Rebney invites Steinbauer back for another visit to experience his true anger; but despite his diuretic use of the f-bomb, Rebney turns out to be a highly intelligent and thoughtful person. Nowadays most of Rebney’s anger is directed towards politics (namely Dick Cheney), the dumbing of America and Walmart…and who could blame him? (Personally, I wish Steinbauer dedicated more screen-time to allow for Rebney to flesh out his opinions.)
Winnebago Man is a charming documentary that speaks quite eloquently about Internet “stardom,” the mass desire to laugh at the mistakes and misfortunes of others, and the freedom of speaking one’s mind. That said; it is an odd twist of fate that Winnebago Man is reaching the masses on the coattails of the recently recorded – and virally disseminated – telephone calls made by Mel Gibson. Gibson’s violent verbal tirades make Rebney sound like a fucking Buddhist monk for fuck’s sake! (As we all hopefully learned from Gibson, it is not always beneficial to say exactly what’s on your mind…especially if that mind belongs to Mel Gibson.)
I didn’t approach Winnebago Man as one of Rebney’s “fans”. I first saw the Rebney footage on The Show With No Name (and then on several other occasions at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas), but I never found the footage to be very funny (I guess I just don’t enjoy laughing at the mistakes and misfortunes of others – especially real people). Steinbauer’s documentary did not change my opinion of the original footage, though I do have a lot more respect for Jack Rebney after watching Winnebago Man. I also think that if I had approached this film as a Rebney “fan,” I would be quite satisfied.
The ability of Winnebago Man to appeal to someone like myself as well as “fans” of the original footage is truly an impressive directorial feat on the part of Steinbauer. He gives me what I want most from a documentary (coherent message, intriguing narrative) while sprinkling just enough of Rebney’s famed verbal flourishes to keep Rebney’s fan-base laughing.