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Winnebago Man

Winnebago Man

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In its uncovering of the apoplectic protagonist of a 20-year-old viral video, Winnebago Man ends up not meditating on 21st-century digital fame (a Douglas Rushkoff comparison to “Roman spectacle-torture” notwithstanding), but a semi-touching reaffirmation that everybody’s in showbiz, or will enter it if summoned. University of Texas film professor Ben Steinbauer, the documentary’s director, made a project of tracking down Jack Rebney, a grimacing RV salesman who became the unwitting star of the outtake reel, circulated via VHS dubs and then YouTube, of a 1989 Iowa-based industrial promo for Winnebago which he wrote and emceed. (Rebney’s cursing is nowhere as baroque as a gaggle of In the Loop characters’ or as lacerating as Joe Pesci’s, but he spits “My mind is just a piece of shit this morning!” with Middle-American, angry-grandpa aplomb.) At first daunted by the cultishly adored huckster’s cold cybertrail, Steinbauer locates “The World’s Angriest Man” living in solitude as a northern California fishing resort’s caretaker at age 76, seemingly serene and bemused by the Winnebago Man clips as an artifact of “the historicity of my youth [sic].”

Subsequent contacts between filmmaker and subject reveal this peace to be a calculated ruse; equally repulsed by and eager to exploit his infamy on “Fuckin’ Piece-o-Shit Tube,” Rebney pushes a manuscript of his personal manifesto (Jousting with the Myth) at Steinbauer and insists on confining his on-camera remarks to polemical rage vented upon Wal-Mart and Dick Cheney. As the drama heightens with the intercession of acute glaucoma, and the approach of Jack’s appearance at a found-footage film festival in San Francisco, Winnebago Man hits its stride simply because Rebney is a maddening, blustering, but vulnerable man who’d checked out of the helter-skelter of a career as a TV news producer, counting on becoming anonymous and forgotten, only to be given a chance to use his stentorian baritone and twinkling aggression in the public sphere once more. Steinbauer wises up and scales back his occasionally oppressive narration at the climax; as trivial as Jack Rebney’s golden moment is, the emotional chord struck by its final scenes echoes the redeemed-codger ending of A Christmas Carol.

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DVD
Distributor
Kino International
Runtime
87 min
Rating
NR
Year
2009
Director
Ben Steinbauer
Screenwriter
Ben Steinbauer, Malcolm Pullinger
Cast
Jack Rebney, Ben Steinbauer, Keith Gordon, Nick Prueher, Joe Pickett, Alexsey Vayner

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