DIR: Lauren Greenfield • WRI: Nick Cave • PRO: Lauren Greenfield, Danielle Renfrew • DOP: Tom Hurwitz • ED: Victor Livingston • CAST: Virginia Nebab, David Siegel, Jaqueline Siegel
While the story itself is dark and depressing, there is something disturbingly alluring in today’s society to observe the fall of the wealthy (the worldwide success of the television show Revenge is definitely somewhat indebted to this) and in a more pure form, to watch the truth that spending freely without thought will eventually come back to bite even the rich hard.
This is a documentary directed by Lauren Greenfield which explores greed in all its glory, one of the deadly sins that was rife amongst so many before the economic crisis. However, the focus here is very direct, as it acutely exposes an ugly centre to the notion of the ‘American Dream’ with an example of a disintegration of those who have accumulated considerable wealth and status as a result of buying into the real estate bubble and cheap money. What is critical is that the couple at the centre of this film began in poverty and are living in the top 1 per cent at the start of the documentary. It looks at a billionare couple as they start work on a mansion, a 90,000 sq. ft. home, as homage to the Versailles palace. Over a period of two years, everything falls apart due to the shaky legs their empire stands on and the economic crisis. Greenfield gives us an insight into the ups and more significantly the downs of being having such wealth.
The man in this couple, David Siega,l is stereotypically much older then his trophy wife and is the CEO and president of the largest timeshare corporation in the U.S.A, Westgate Resorts. David falls into the category of a man who is smart enough to have reached the position he is in and yet foolish enough to engage with cheap money and pamper his idle wife. His wife, Jackie, is a former beauty queen who climbed the social ladder to be where she is now. She is mother to eight children, who she admits she would not have been able to have without her nannies. When things start to crumble Jackie does not alter her spending and begins to live outside her means as their mansion risks being unfinished. She personifies white trash but at the same time she is endearing to a point and yet blissfully unaware of the reality around her when things turn negative.
The absurdity of the excess, the glimpses into the dark realities that permeate their lives, the neglected children and pets, excessive waiting staff and their awareness that there is the presense of sadness amongst it all, lends itself for hard-hitting yet captivating viewing. This portrait does not gloss anything over, it provides a chilling reflection on current times and insight into how the wealthy are not mere untouchable beings residing in glorious luxury and when things start to deflate, what emerges is hard to swallow and yet also darkly humorous.
The Queen of Versailles is released on 7th September 2012