Sometimes, film critics heap over the top praise on a film, but in the case of the superlatives that have been levied upon the new documentary Winnebago Man by Ben Steinbauer, these accolades are in many cases, not nearly lofty enough. Steinbauer and his collaborators, and most importantly the man himself, Jack Rebney, allow viewers to peer at the human condition through the prism of a complex man with a distinct vision of the world that is unwavering. With an amazing array of anger, f-bombs, and misanthropic behavior, Winnebago Man Jack Rebney makes S@^t My Dad Says look like a Disney imagined production. Winnebago Man is currently playing around the country with this weekend seeing its opening in among other locations, Austin and Dallas, TX, St. Helena, CA, Williamsburg, VA, Albuquerque, NM, and Greensboro, NC. Check the film’s website for more on future locations and dates.
This fresh and potent documentary traces Steinbauer’s obsession with tracking down the elusive Rebney who became a Youtube sensation and helped to usher in the term viral video with his outtakes from an industrial video he worked on for the Winnebago corporation in 1989. VHS tapes were passed around for years and years, then with the advent of Youtube in 2005, the Winnebago Man exploded. Steinbauer, as all great documentarians do, brings comparison stories into the mix, exploring other examples of Youtube sensations like the Star Wars light saber kid, looking at the fame as well as the dubious notoriety that can come in this evermore digital age. But Steinbauer truly digs deeper into Rebney and the fervor surrounding his rants, not only wanting to physically find Rebney, but discover who he is now, why is he the way he is, and how this meteoric rise has affected him along with the passion of his legions of fans.
The filmmaking prowess of Steinbauer was clearly evident in Winnebago Man, using all the tools at one’s disposal to illuminate the narrative of the subject Rebney, as well as the process of bringing the film to fruition. An acerbic man like Rebney is not the easiest subject to relate to, but Steinbauer, through his relentless work ethic and professionalism draws Rebney in, allowing him to open up and let the viewer into his world. Special notice goes to the editor of the film as well, Malcolm Pullinger, who also co-wrote and produced the film. Pullinger took poignant moment after moment, linking them together in such a way that the viewer could look into the mind of Rebney, through quiet moments riding in the car with Steinbauer, through gazes to the natural wonders around his Northern California mountain hideaway, while also allowing the articulate words of Rebney to effortlessly convey the complexity of his character.
For all the laughter and enjoyment that Winnebago Man provides, it may more importantly illuminate the true nature of a fellow traveler on the journey of being human. Rebney has a beautiful honesty to his psyche, a tender and well thought out philosophy, and an intelligence anyone would envy. The viewer is enlightened to these aspects of him and more, as layer upon layer of the man is revealed by Steinbauer with a maestro’s touch. Rebney is a unique flower, one that would serve this country well, as perhaps his rise to fame comes mostly from the fact that the vast majority of Americans would never speak their minds like him, they would in fact, never take the time to work out an internal philosophy to live by and follow with passion, and moreover, never risk being un-P.C. for even a moment due to a relentless fear of losing their jobs or some other material possession.
Taking the words of several other critics is not my style, but in this case, they are so right. Harry Knowles of AICN said he “cannot recommend Winnebago Man strongly enough”, and neither can I. Roger Ebert, buttons down a bit to add “Holy s^i!, is this a f#$*ing funny documentary!”, amen Roger. What I would add to these thoughts is simply this: This is the best documentary I have seen since Man on Wire (if you have not seen it, sorry about that, get to Netflix now). So “do me a favor will ya please, will ya, will ya do me a kindness”, go see this fantastic flick. You will leave elevated in mood and spirit, you will have a greater appreciation for the brilliance that is Jack Rebney, and you will have a comical and inspiring topic for conversation among others who know about the Winnebago Man.
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5 out of 5 Stars
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