There’s a pretty good chance you already have an idea who Jack Rebney is, even if you don’t recognize the name; if you don’t, you should immediately watch one of the clip reels that made him notorious: this one is my favorite (NSFW!) of the many edits. The video consists of outtakes from a sales video Rebney made for Winnebago in August 1988, in which he gives frequent and hilarious vent to his frustrations at forgetting lines he wrote himself, being beset by swarms of flies, and the basic absurdities of advertising. The crew thought he was so hilarious that they edited together the outtakes and circulated it amongst themselves; friends passed it to friends, and it became a VHS viral phenomenon. Rebney became widely-known as the Winnebago Man.
Documentarian Ben Steinbauer became fascinated with this video and wondered if he could track down Rebney, who had apparently disappeared 15 years earlier, and he has made a hilarious movie about his journey (you can see the trailer here — also NSFW). Mindful of people who have been humiliated by viral videos — like the Star Wars kid, who didn’t deserve mockery, and Alexsey Vayner, who very, very much did — he wondered if Rebney went into hiding after he acquired a reputation as the Winnebago Man.
Steinbauer did eventually track down Rebney, after some difficulty, and it turns out that Rebney wasn’t even aware of the video’s existence until it appeared on YouTube in 2002. Steinbauer explores this kind of contemporary minor celebrity a little bit, but the film is much more fascinating as a portrait of Rebney, a catankerous, opinionated and proud man who eventually comes to terms with the nature of his notoriety.
Winnebago Man plays at the Lumière in San Francisco this week.