Winnebago Man (Steinbauer, 2009)

Winnebago Man searches for and finds the incomplete elements of humanity behind the artifice of Internet sensationalism, then puts them on display in all their nasty, hilarious, sad, and reflective glory. The artifact in question is Jack Rebney, a former television news director turned salesman who became a viral video star after his angry tirades from a 1989 industrial video became iconic pop culture.

The filmmakers feel intrinsically tied to Rebney’s arc, as if they were family instead of outsiders, and this closeness, this proximity of feeling sets Winnebago Man apart from most documentaries. There’s a deep longing to understand Rebney’s strange tangents and about faces, a need to give this once humiliated man a second chance at refreshing his public persona. But does Rebney want such an opportunity? This question remains at the forefront of this superb non-fiction piece, and it’s to the filmmakers credit they always respect their subject’s sometimes shifty, manipulative, and worrisome outlook on the filmmaking process.

Ultimately, director Ben Steinbauer follows Rebney’s wishes to keep his childhood and adult life primarily secret, instead illuminating the day-to-day musings of a man immersed in the contradictions of modern social structures. The final tracking shot away from Rebney and his loving dog Buddha, perfectly framed by their isolated log cabin, clearly reflects the filmmakers have had a sublime impact on “the angriest salesman in the world.” At least on the surface, things are better than they were.

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