Winnebago Man

WinnebagoMan(dir. Ben Steinbauer | USA | 2009 | 87 mins.)

Review by Hugh Lilly

In 1989, Jack Rebney, an imposingly tall man with a loud ‘made for radio’ voice, made a series of industrial commercials for Winnebago, a company that builds motor homes and recreational vehicles. Filmed at the height of a boiling Iowan summer and with a largely inexperienced crew, tempers flared. The shoot was eventually completed, though, and Rebney left Winnebago and retreated to the serenity of the hills above California.

But outtakes from the shoot, featuring Rebney’s booming tenor spouting a series of unintentionally hilarious expletives at the camera man and other crew members, became infamous, making Rebney an underground star. Ben Steinbauer’s film tells the tale of the outtakes, and Rebney’s re-entry to the limelight, alongside a brief history of the viral video.

Rebney’s colourful catchphrases quickly became a pop culture phenomenon, spreading around the world through pre-Internet TV clip shows, offbeat little bric-a-brac film festivals and, eventually video sites like YouTube. References started appearing in TV shows like 30 Rock—the episode where Alec Baldwin’s character is taping a promo and keeps forgetting his lines—and Rebney’s antics were parodied by amateurs and professionals alike, most hilariously by an Italian YouTube enthusiast.

The film, made last year, finds Rebney living what looks like a peaceful, calm existence in a cabin in the woods above L.A. The director confronts Rebney with the fact that he’s become famous for something that happened twenty years ago, and is now known to a legion of fans variously as The Angriest Man In The World, The World’s Angriest RV Salesman or simply Winnebago Man.

Steinbauer convinces a reluctant Rebney to appear at a screening of the foul-mouthed outtakes at the Found Footage Festival in San Francisco, where he realises that the people who adore him aren’t just Internet ‘wackos’. Winnebago Man is an uproarious look at how pop culture phenomena are born, and the lasting effects they have on their unwitting stars.

Winnebago Man screens at the upcoming New Zealand International Film Festival in Auckland on Wednesday 15th and Thursday 16th July.

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