Jack Rebney is the Winnebago Man – an oddly eloquent yet obscenity laced orator that rose to Youtube fame for the outtakes of an early 1980′s Winnebago promotional video that featured him losing his shit repeatedly and swearing up a damn storm. (My personal favorite quote is “My mind is just a piece of shit this morning.”) As a truly eccentric character – he has lived in the woods alone for the past 15 years – with a flair for hilarious dialogue, he is a kickass subject for a documentary. Director Ben Steinbauer, however, took this great subject and made a merely OK documentary.
First of all, take a look at the original video:
The movie begins with Steinbauer following in the footsteps of “throw it together” documentary filmmakers like Nick Broomfield that essentially make a movie about themselves trying to make a movie. They run down leads and try to get interviews. The narrative follows the filmmaker’s journey rather than the subject’s journey, and the story is told to the audience by the director via lots of voice over rather than letting the footage show us the subject and their story. In this case, Steinbauer talks about his personal history with the Winnebago Man video, which actually dates back to the pre-Youtube era of funny videos being spread via hand copied VHS tapes. He then details his early efforts in finding Rebney and setting up an interview with him. In an already very short movie (less than 90 minutes), this is fluff, and there’s an annoying “golly gee, funny videos make everyone happy” quality to the early voice over segments to make it a little worse.
TV Casualties Rating:
|Run Time: 85 minutes|
|Directed by: Ben Steinbauer
|Starring: Jack Rebney
|Theatrical Release: 07/09/10|
|DVD Release: 11/02/10|
|Production Budget: N/A|
|Domestic Gross: $181K|
|Metacritic Score: 71/100|
|Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 91%|
As the film progresses, we meet Rebney and he’s exactly the same guy we’ve seen on youtube – sure, he’s older, in his mid to late 70′s, but just as intense, quick-witted and foul-mouthed as he was that day in the Winnebago 20 odd years ago. And here’s the film’s real flaw – we ultimately don’t see a ton of footage of Rebney just being himself. Steinbauer fights with him about talking about his childhood and opening up to people, which Rebney has no interest in. Rebney is extremely skeptical of Youtube and his so-called fanbase, whom he misunderstands and assumes to be laughing at him rather than being amused by his turns of filthy phrase.
Rebney’s dream is to write books about politics and philosophy. He agrees to work on Steinbauer’s project merely for the chance to spread his ideas. Winnebago Man reveals almost none of the content of his message and all the footage is condensed into showing him being defensive about “opening up to people.” Without revealing the ending, the “opening up” storyline does pay off in a satisfying way, and I did feel like Rebney was changed by the experience of making this documentary. Still, I wanted to know Rebney better, not in a superficial “what was your childhood like?” way, but in an adult “what are you genuinely passionate about today?” way. Instead I got a Rebney reduced to a hermit caricature to fit Steinbauer’s sappy ode to the power of funny videos. Golly gee, that’s swell.