Trolls, Winnebagos and the price of quasi-fame

“Boy, they’re really forcing Peter Jackson to cut corners on <i>The Hobbit</i>.”

“Boy, they’re really forcing Peter Jackson to cut corners on The Hobbit.”

There is a unique strain of notorious, oft-reluctant celebrity-hood that first took root in the video age and has gone literally viral in the Internet era. A couple of recent, unreleased-in-Sacramento documentaries attempt to explore this phenomenon with varying results.

Ben Steinbauer’s Winnebago Man focuses on Jack Rebney, the unwitting lead in an infamous 1980’s video bootleg. The widely pirated tape featured outtakes from an instructional Winnebago film written by and starring Rebney, a bald, bilious buffoon seen cursing up a storm, belittling his crew and swatting flies in a wilting Iowa heat.

Since the footage has been given new relevance by its YouTube ubiquity, Steinbauer decides to track down Rebney, now an elderly man living in near-exile in Northern California. Steinbauer answers a few perfunctory questions about his subject (yes, Rebney really acts like that), but never gets close enough to scratch the surface of this complex, guarded man.

A more complete treatment of a similar subject is provided by Michael Stephenson’s Best Worst Movie, which follows the stars of 1990’s Troll 2, a discarded, low-budget dud that achieved new life as IMDB’s consensus “worst movie ever made” (it’s since been replaced by Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2).

Stephenson himself played in Troll 2 as a child actor, but the soul of the doc is his co-star George Hardy, a jovial Iowa dentist whose thirst for fame is rekindled when a crowd of 200 bad-film geeks shower him with adulation at a New York screening.

Thus begins an odyssey into the loneliness, dashed dreams, clinging hope and depressing horror-movie convention booths of quasi-fame, a journey Stephenson navigates with humor and pungent insight. The best moments are provided by Claudio Fragasso, the Italian director of Troll 2 who seems genuinely surprised that his film’s “resurgence” is pejorative in nature.