Winnebago Man (2010/2011)

by | Sep 9, 2011 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews

Winnebago Man (2010/2011)
Documentary by Ben Steinbauer on Jack Rebney
Studio: Kino Video: no International K692 [7/4/11]
Video: 1.85:1 for 16:9 color
Audio:  English 5.1 surround or 2.0 stereo [But some of the English is not suitable for all audiences!]
Extras: The actual Winnebago sales video (25 min.), Featurette: The NYC premiere of the film with Michael Moore & Jack Rebney, Theatrical trailer
Length: 85 minutes
Rating: *****
It all began in a 100-degree humid summer shoot somewhere in Iowa for a video for the Winnebago RV company.  Jack Rebney was the on-camera spokesperson, trying to follow a typical corny commercial spiel, he and the whole crew were tired from working long hours trying to do the shoot, there were lots of flies around, and Jack quickly began to lose his cool, throwing a fit. The cameraman and director realized this was a great opportunity and just kept shooting when Jack mouthed off with frustrated, angry explosions of profanity.  (Reminded me of my first job for Pacifica Radio, when I was given the tapes of Kenneth Rexroth’s Autobiography to edit out all his profanity—which I also saved.) They cut these outtakes together when the final video was being completed, and sent that VHS video to some friends. Eventually it got duplicated over and over and passed around because most viewers found it hilarious. When YouTube came on the scene, it was one of the most popular videos online, competing with the laugh yoga guru and the poor kid doing his one-man version of Star Wars light-sabre combat with a big pole. The documentary shows portions of all of these.
20 years later, young filmmaker Steinbauer, who also teaches film, went searching for The Winnebago Man, also known now as The Angriest Man in the World, to make a documentary on him. He found him living the life of an 80-year-old hermit in a mountain cabin in the general area of Redding, California.  On the first filmed visit, Jack seemed the very model of a kind old man, and didn’t seem to even know about his unusual fame due to the existence of the infamous video. Later Jack calls Ben and explains that was just a big act he went into due to his humiliation over the video.
The rest of the documentary shows us the real Jack.  He is a cantankerous, opinionated senior, but he turns out to also be highly intelligent and more likable than one would have ever believed. A sad note is Jack losing his sight suddenly, but that doesn’t stop Steinbauer’s efforts to get Jack to realize that thousands of fans absolutely love his infamous video.  One says she puts it on every time she’s feeling down and it revives her.  Eventually he takes Jack to first an early showing of Winnebago Man at a funky Haight Street theater in San Francisco, and then to its official premiere in New York City, where Michael Moore deems it  “One of the funniest documentaries ever made!”  Jack hears the crowd’s responses, is clearly touched and poses happily with fans at both showings. He seems to enjoy answering audience questions at both showings. One of the funny bits concerns what he meant by “ferns and docks” that he mentioned in the original video. He explains that he adapted that from words that Steve Allen made up to replace the profanity that would be censored from his TV show.
Ben inserts some Michael Moore-like bits into the film, such as shooting Jack in front of Redding Wal-Mart and Best Buy stores, where they get chased away by the authorities. Jack had important positions at CBS News after getting fired from his Winnebago stint, and says he quit there when the William Paley-owned network was sold to corporate figures and commercial TV news became the morass it is today.  In a way, Steinbauer doesn’t end up showing us the real Jack Rebney—just cuts him off when he starts to spout about the evils of Dick Cheney. However, it’s still a hilarious and touching documentary of great originality. Even if you’re aghast at the profanity we’re hearing in recent movies, this is a rather different sort of thing.
—John Sunier

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