In 2010 a documentary was made of Jack Rebney, Winnebago salesman. For years, outtakes from a promotional film for the Winnebago company featuring Jack Rebney as its spokesman had gone viral. Apparently the appeal here was that Jack had a special talent which was his capacity to cathartically curse when he was frustrated with a failed shot or technical mishap while filming his Winnebago commercials. A tall man with a fine speaking voice, he had been a broadcaster for news programs at an earlier time, but I am getting ahead of myself. What matters is Jack’s way with curse words. When he said shit or fuck it was as if they were newly coined. Inherent in the cursing was, to me, a kind of catharsis, of the quietly desperate man finally voicing his discontent at work, at life, at everything. See a YouTube sample from the video and the movie trailer.
Millions of people have viewed his cantankerous cursing and have relished his being a curmudgeon or so it seems as we listen to him go after the inanimate things of life, Iowan flies on a windshield, a cabin storage door that doesn’t close and technicians giving him a hard time during filming. Jack just had a way with fuck and shit. And when the outtakes were “somehow” shared with the suits at Winnebago Jack was let go, although he served the company well and still speaks kindly of them.
For years these outtakes gathered hordes of fans who we learned made numerous tape copies. Eventually they became so degraded they were almost unviewable, but that voice of Jack lambasting everything with shit and fuck and motherfucker rang clear and true. Of course, it went viral, on You Tube, all that flotsam and jetsam of social media. Finally a young director (Ben Steinbauer), and it is critical that I say young, became curious about Jack Rebney and decided to pursue his dream to make a film about this man — was he still alive? did he know of his web “fame”? was he really that angry, for he was sometimes labeled the world’s angriest man, which I find rather handsome and wholesome.
So here is a kind of shortening of what occurred: a search is done, contact is made with Jack; film crew and the director go visit him; Jack, at first, acts as if he is not a crotchety old man (he purposely lies and puts on the crew) and that leaves the director with his cock up his ass –no film to make; they part, and all this is filmed in Manton, California, in the northern part of the state in which Jack lives alone with his pit bull, Buddha, and is the caretaker of property which has some good fishing. Jack lives in what he calls a “hovel,” bookcases lined with the Bible, the Koran, books on neurology, for Jack apparently is an autodidact and throughout the documentary, three and four syllable words flow from his lips such as “ebullient” and “historicity” and they seem rather comfortable on his lips while shit and fuck snarl from his mouth.
Enough with backstory. I sensed that Jack who was pushing eighty and eventually goes blind because of glaucoma really needs some rejuvenation if not refueling by being with his species, annoying, intrusive, and probing as they are revealed through the director, deus ex machina. At almost seventy-two I empathized with Jack. We are not made of brick and mortar no matter how sterling our ethical principles are (“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, statesmen and divines” — Emerson). Often we have to relent, flex and become moderate and seek out the Grecian golden mean in order to get by in this world. I took to this man’s right to be a curmudgeon, to assail the present world as corrupting and corruptive. He keeps asking the director as to his need to do this: who cares? what is your purpose, young man? why is this important? and who needs this kind of attention? He is never really heard, for we have director as marketer. Except he doesn’t have Jack’s panache to sell Winnebagos.
And then, for me, comes the great bolt of lightning (Shazam) when in anger at the director he rails at his world (this was about 2008- 2010) by shouting that we are blind in this country, that Dick Cheney is the war criminal he is, that if he had hot red pokers he’d stick them up the asses of Rove, Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld and take great pleasure in observing their agonies. And the director now gets heated and goes after and assaults Jack for this political outrage, that he didn’t come here for that — milkmaid is upset because the cow doesn’t give milk — and that all he wants to do is make a film and not hear his rage. And at this point I saw right through this American director, oh is he American, this digital marketer, suborning Jack’s needs for his own opaque feelings, for he, the director is clearly transparent for he is making a product to market. I am watching Soylent Green.
When I heard Jack sum up Cheney I almost leaped from my seat and yelled at the screen. For in our so-called exceptionalism, our being a slave nation for over 150 years, for almost exterminating the indigenous native populations, the Three-fifths Compromise (black man as fraction), we feel it is inconceivable that our country could produce war criminals — but we have, Andrew Jackson for one, Brigham Young for another, and Cheney and all the rest. What is mortifying to me are all the soldiers, the “treasure” as we like to term it, who have lost limbs and suffered disabilities. In denial soldiers have not united here and there to bring charges against the men who sent them off. That is mind-boggling. Soldiers as mentally conditioned slaves — talk about what this system does to us. I read that the Malaysian War Crimes Tribunal convicted Bush and Cheney of crimes against humanity earlier this month. And so Jack Rebney sees through all this shit and calls out a truth, and this young weasel of a director is more concerned about his anger and rage at a Winnebago. Young man go to war and have your “junk” blown away and report on that and then I’ll listen to your rage.
By this time in the film I was fuming. What is left is a so-called friend who Jack helped out years ago when he was destitute and who is now allied with the director himself, chaperoning the completely blind Jack to a film festival which highlights all of Jacks outtakes as the angriest man in the world. It is touching to see Jack lauded and he is touched, I believe so, nevertheless, that is it and Jack and his “friend” and the director drive him back home to his hermitage, and his dog, Buddha, and his blindness. Ah, the missionary impulses in us all, let’s put bras on the natives in Hawaii and teach them modesty. Fuck and fuck that. Jack has been subtly proselytzed. Jack has been used and partially colluded in that, but I can feel his need for human contact although he is as fed up with the human species as was Gulliver at the end of that book when he refused to be rescued for he had seen too much of humanity in his travels.
One of the multi-layers in this film is the generational one, such as bringing in fifty and sixty-year-old women in hats, tap shoes and spangles to dance (every community in America apparently has such a group) before eighty-year-olds in a home, demeaning to both. The galling assumption in giving that which is not wanted and then taking pleasure in the goodness of one’s own efforts. Jack was reified in this documentary, turned into an object long after he had been objectified by the web. When this director goes to bed this night, may a long lost and surviving vampire turn the tables and put a stake through his heart, and may that same bat visit Cheney and do the same.
Addendum –Email sent to my son prior to this blog:
Saw Winnebago Man with Jane; a few thoughts — unimpressed with the cinematography; I know you could do better. All kinds of ethical issues came to mind — the director has his needs (!) and he just went about pursuing them regardless of Rebney’s needs. Whose life is it anyway? When Rebney blamed our current state of affairs on Cheney, Jane and I leaped from the couch. He is a war criminal and Rebney has it right. (Of course, in the grand history of USA there never have been war criminals, unimaginable–sure).There is an attitude to the aging and the old here which youth reflects; I know because I can taste it. (Zuckerberg is great as an entrepreneur but as a former shrink who can and could read people he is a putz on several levels.) I am wondering if you too feel the ethics when filming the people you did film. I found the director intrusive. In many ways there was no need for the film and Rebney is right about questioning those who found it important to trail and track him. It says some savage things about this intrusive culture. Issues of privacy came to my mind. Hilarious in places, of course, but it raises larger issues. Apparently in this country you can’t be a curmudgeon and live alone — something wrong about that and un-American? I value my privacy and solitude very much and the film irked and troubled that part of me. All is well in this country, don’t rock the boat and don’t bite the hand that feeds you — fuck that. All is rotten and I don’t own a Winnebago. This is grandiose but if we had a short film between Jack and I (or between the director and I) good sparks would fly over how he has been used, although he is blind and does need people about him; nevertheless, I know he sees through some of this shit.
Boy, did you get me started