Review: “Winnebago Man”

"Winnebago Man" is a documentary by Ben Steinbauer about his quest to find the epically profane Jack Rebney, who was the star of his own viral video long before Al Gore gave us the Internet. It's a hilarious, bizarre and touching story.

Rebney was tasked in 1988 with the job of making a promotional sales video for Winnebago's new RV, the majestic Itasca Sunflyer. Confronted with sweltering heat, massive swarms of flies and a couple of wise-ass crew, Rebney regular let forth streams of four-letter vitriol. Browbeating and angry, the crew cobbled together a VHS tape of outtakes and began circulating it to all their friends. Seventeen years later, YouTube was born and Rebney quickly became one of its first viral video stars.

Steinbauer soon saw the video and began to wonder what exactly happened to the old man and set out to find him. Rebney, not surprisingly, had become something of a hermit, living on a mountain in northern California, blissfully ignorant of his newfound celebrity.

Some of the footage, especially a scene of Steinbauer talking to Rebney over the phone, feels suspiciously like a reenactment. And at times it feels like Steinbauer is pushing himself into his subject's life, trying to make him more interesting, though it's clear that Rebney is a willing participant and is clearly gaming the the system himself.

Rebney proves to be a fascinating character, offering insights into the nature of pride, the need for human interaction, and the nature of celebrity. He's also a study in the observer effect, as we watch him try to adjust to the knowledge that he's been watched and will continue to be watched long after he's gone.

"Winnebago Man" is definitely worth the trip, it's funny, poignant, thoughtful, has as much profanity as "Scarface," and is sure to be as big an underground hit as the video that spawned it. Checking your local listings to see if Rebney is making an appearance, as he is in New York this weekend, he loves the attention.

"Winnebago Man" opens in New York on July 9 before moving on to other cities, check the film's site

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