03 November 2012

The Queen of Versailles (Lauren Greenfield, 2012, USA)

This film, which is recently out on DVD, is described as a documentary surrounding the construction of the largest home in America. Or something. Anyway, I feel like my experience of the film was colored strongly by two extraneous factors. One is the fact that the businessman, David Siegel, at the center of the film is the guy who made news recently for threatening his Vegas employees that they ought to vote for Mitt Romney if they wanted their jobs. The other is a piece I read recently in the New York Times, which discussed the subsequent lawsuit surrounding this movie, which is about as interesting a story as anything in the film. Other than giving some more insight into Mr. Siegel's perspective, the piece also left me with reservations about the filmmaker's approach. There are scenes in the film which are misleading, and some that are out of order. There are scenes in the film which were more or less choreographed by the filmmaker. I know this is very common practice among documentarians, but it makes me a little uneasy all the same.

Mr. Siegel is the very wealthy man behind the Westgate time share operations in Orlando and Las Vegas. His (third?) wife is a former Mrs. Florida and mother of 7+1 who kind of presides over the madness of the household with a kooky authority. The movie starts out fairly promising, if disingenuously so. The Siegels have begun building what is meant to be the largest home in America, inspired by Versailles. The time share business is more or less devastated by the financial crisis in 2008, and Mr. Siegel, who never set much aside, is suddenly in trouble. I felt pretty ambivalent about all the characters in the film, but the film certainly has something to say about a lot of facets of America, from just about any social, cultural, or economic angle you could think of.

I don't know, something in me rejected the film. Perhaps it's meant to leave you uneasy. From a distance, these aren't supposed to be very likable people, but they are actually likable to a point. And really, despite their extreme wealth and seeming detachment from reality, I'm not sure I've ever seen such authentically American people on film before. They really seem like anyone you've ever met who lives in the suburbs. Affable, delusional, entitled, and living beyond their means to some extent. And then you have the wife who is something like Norma Desmond or Little Edie mixed with your average billionaire soccer mom. Like I said though, I feel ambivalent about it. I'll probably watch it again some time.

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