There's a very real sense of satisfaction in the documentary Winnebago Man, when filmmaker Ben Steinbauer finally tracks down his quarry: A man named Jack Rebney, whose profane rants and temper tantrums between takes on a 1988 industrial video shoot had become the stuff of Internet legend.
Until Steinbauer - a University of Texas film professor who also narrates and co-stars in Winnebago Man - found the unwitting viral phenom, he'd only been known as "The Angriest Man on Earth." The mysterious Rebney had made the video for Winnebago Industries, and before the outtakes reel had surfaced, had disappeared.
Winnebago Man - up to this point - is both funny and fascinating, and when Rebney surfaces, his curiosity piqued by Steinbauer's relentless pursuit, he turns out to be the caretaker of a lonely California mountain resort. He lives alone with his dog, Buddha, walks in the woods, thinks deep thoughts and composes lengthy diatribes against the sorry state of American society. He believes Dick Cheney is the root of all evil.
That's where Winnebago Man gets docked a couple of points. For while the oratorical Rebney is without question a interesting man, he's also an irascible old coot. By the end of the film, when Steinbauer convinces him to "guest star" at San Francisco's Found Film Festival, he doesn't seem all that special, just another cranky geezer with a rant, and a rave, happy that he's found an audience to pay witness to his bully-pulpit ax-grinding.
The Winnebago outtakes had been circulated by the film crew, most of whom are interviewed. Turns out that none of them liked Rebney - in fact, they were a little afraid of him - and they compiled the reel to "get back" at him. They all remember the hot August day, shooting in 100-degree Iowa, vividly. And they all confess to wondering over the years what had become of the arrogant, imposing man they'd worked with.
In John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, when a newspaper man hears the true story behind one of his favorite Western myths, he rejects it and says "When the legend becomes fact - print the legend."
Although Winnebago Man is certainly enjoyable, its last half-hour suggests that Steinbauer might have been better off just printing the legend.
Winnebago Man screens at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 19 at the Jepson Center for the Arts Auditorium. Admission is $6; box office opens at 6 p.m.
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