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Netflix Review: Winnebago Man
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Winnebago ManWinnebago Man
Netflix Streaming
Directed by Ben Steinbauer
Starring Jack Rebney, Ben Steinbauer, Keith Gordon, Nick Prueher, Joe Pickett, and Douglas Rushkoff
Kino International
Originally Released: March 14, 2009

I can’t think of a better selection for our first Netflix Streaming review than by taking a look at the myth and the legend behind Winnebago Man, otherwise known as Jack Rebney. This documentary, first and foremost, begins as a keystone indicator of the Internet Age. While online connectivity and the ever-developing growth of the world wide web has changed our perspective over the last decade, it became broadened even further with the debut of a web site that we all seem to take for granted now: YouTube.

I can recall the internet days before streaming video, in a virtual galaxy a long time ago before YouTube was launched. It was more difficult to get your hands on some good quality video in that eon – your best bet was to download AVI or MPG files, which over a dial-up connection took forever to download. And then only to find out you didn’t have the right codecs and needed to somehow acquire the correct ones and install them.

Doing us all a kindness, YouTube changed all that. While it expanded the world for content creators making original videos, an element that endures, the internet also became the place for “found-footage.” What was once only available through underground VHS trading rings, or on Funniest Home Video televisions shows, now had a place to truly spread… the cosmos of the viral video was born.

One of the first viral videos, if not the first, was outtakes from an industrial video shoot for Winnebago, featuring Jack Rebney. For those who have never seen the clip, you can see it embedded at the end of this review. Essentially, it is a collection of outtake clips, often labeled The Winnebago Man or The Angriest Man in the World, showing Rebney losing his cool during the film. The mere description does not do it justice, because the video speaks for itself – if it doesn’t make you laugh, then you’re just not human.

While many of us first discovered Rebney’s video on the web, in actual fact it was disseminating among “found-footage” collectors around the world. Fascinated, filmmaker Ben Steinbauer decides to try and track down Jack Rebney, to film his progress, and discover more about the story surrounding the viral video.

Winnebago Man begins with a little back story as to the viral video and its origins on the trading circuits, and even takes a trip down memory lane as Steinbauer runs through some historic virals, including Star Wars Kid and Grape Girl – but also underscored the psychological impact to the individuals caught on film, contending that the rise of the viral video could have been the beginning of cyberbullying.

As we progress, we learn more about how Rebney’s outtakes have scattered across the world, and become so popular among internet subculture – so much so that the DreamWorks offices even have a painting of Jack Rebney as Shrek next to a Winnebago. Steinbauer tracks down and reveals extra footage from the original filming, and eventually meets many of the crew present for the film shoot – including Tony the towel boy. It is later alleged that the whole filming scenario was a set-up to get Jack fired, though this assertion is never followed up in the documentary.

After enlisting the assistance of a private investigator, the director eventually finds Jack Rebney – living a quiet, almost hermit-like lifestyle in Northern California. What follows is a humorous, yet at times emotional and poignant, rollercoaster ride as Rebney comes head on with the legacy that has come from his appearance in the outtakes video becoming a memorable online viral video phenomenon.

Winnebago Man

Often the documentary takes turns where Jack and Ben face off with each other, both inflexibly wanting to turn the filming into something the other does not want. But besides this, this documentary is a touching journey, as Jack comes to terms with becoming known for the Winnebago video, and as the audience discovers and learns more about the human condition – and the identity and mindset behind the man that is Jack Rebney.

Essentially, what opens as a love song for the wonders of viral videos on the internet evolves into a very human story: emotive and affecting. Netflix has an abundance of wonderful documentaries available, but this has to be one of the finest I have viewed with their service. The conclusion made me want to know more, learn more about this unique man and his “accoutrement” – but also made me ponder further about the stories behind other viral videos we’ve since become exposed to. In other words, there still is not a Star Wars Kid movie, but goddamn it, there should be!

We gravitate towards these videos for a reason – sure, they are funny – but it says something about us as humans, in the way we can connect to how that individual is being portrayed on screen… and when we learn more about the people behind the virals, it becomes an even more touching quest into humanity and how we identify with each other.

On the face of all that, there remains an aspect of this film that makes it a film for our generation; the Internet generation… this documentary captures the turning point in our global culture as the internet grew, and highlights the influence it has had on us all. So while the humanity component of the movie does indeed make the film worth viewing, it is also the fact that it helps capture how it makes those of us that are Internet Geeks the way that we are.

“…you believe any of that shit?”

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

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