Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Winnebago Man

Winnebago Man is a 2009 American documentary feature film directed by Ben Steinbauer that follows the Internet phenomenon created by a series of twenty-year-old outtakes from a Winnebago sales video featuring profane outbursts from the salesperson, Jack Rebney. Originally intended as an inside joke, the video spread across the globe first on VHS tape then via YouTube and other online video sites, earning the salesman the title of "The Angriest Man in the World". The documentary explores the story of the clip’s origin and how, two decades later, it affects the man who never even knew it existed.

The film premiered at The South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas on March 14, 2009, and opened theatrically on July 9, 2010 at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema in New York, before expanding nationally.

A sixty minute version of Winnebago Man was aired in the UK on BBC Four on August 30, 2010 as part of the Storyville series of documentaries.

The documentary starts with Steinbauer's obsession with a widely circulated viral video featuring outtakes from an RV commercial shoot, centered around a cantankerous pitchman who regularly becomes outraged and flustered, cursing in colorful mannerisms. Steinbauer researches the video, and discovers that it had been circulating on VHS long before it appeared on the Internet.

Steinbauer ultimately tracks down the infamous "Winnebago Man": Jack Rebney. Steinbauer visits Rebney at his home in a remote mountain area in California. Steinbauer is surprised to find Rebney to be calm, congenial, and very articulate -- in contrast to his reputed ornery manner. Rebney at first claims ignorance about his own popularity on the Internet. Steinbauer returns home somewhat disappointed.

Later, Rebney begins contacting Steinbauer. He admits that he has always been aware of the video and its notoriety, and is petulant over it. Rebney expresses deep bitterness about the current (2005-2007) state of affairs in America. Steinbauer discovers that Rebney was once an accomplished news broadcaster, and that Rebney still wishes for his political opinions to be heard. Rebney invites Steinbauer for a second visit.

Shortly afterward, local papers report that Rebney has gone missing for some time. After he is safely returned home, Rebney reports the ordeal to Steinbauer. When Steinbauer makes his second visit to Rebney's home, Rebney explains that he is now blind.

Despite Rebney's cantankerous (albeit articulate) protests, Steinbauer takes him to the Found Footage Festival in San Francisco. There, fans have lined up for a sold-out screening of the original videos featuring Rebney. The fans describe Rebney's positive impact on them. During the screening, the Festival organizers invite Rebney on stage as a special guest, where he wittily engages the audience. After the screening, Rebney meets several fans who request autographs and express to him how viewing the old footage cheers them up after a hard day.

Later that night, Rebney muses to an old friend that, counter to his expectations, his fans are "clever, quick, observant people."

The next day, the filmmakers and Rebney's friend drive him back home. There, Rebney's friend tells him, "You made a lot of people happy this weekend." Rebney replies by acknowledging that he takes some small degree of pride in how, for many people, he represents the human condition in the face of adversity.

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