Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Breathtaking wretched excess

0 comments
About the movie
The Queen of Versailles
Genre:
Documentary
MPAA rating:
PG
for thematic elements and language
Running time:
01:40
Release date:
2012
Rating:
Cast:
David Siegel; Jackie Siegel; Virginia Nebel
Directed by:
Lauren Greenfield

'Purses are a good investment," says Jackie Siegel, happily claiming to own "a ton" of designer bags. "If you ever get into a bind, you can always sell them on eBay."

It isn't entirely clear at what point in the chronology of Lauren Greenfield's jaw-dropping documentary The Queen of Versailles Siegel makes this observation. Is it when she and her husband, the time-share mogul David Siegel, were still billionaires, living in a 26,000-square-foot "starter" mansion while they built a 90,000-square-foot palace - modeled on King Louis XIV's historic digs - down the road?

Or was it after the crash of 2008, when the time-share business went belly up along with the rest of the economy, and the Siegels were forced to lay off most of their staff, fire thousands of employees, and stop work on what would have been the largest single-family residence in America?

In any case, Jackie, a former model and beauty pageant winner who grew up in working-class Binghamton, N.Y., seems to know - in the back of her mind, anyway - that things could take a turn for the worse.

And, boy, do they ever.

A sad and shocking study in impossible excess and outsized hubris, The Queen of Versailles follows Jackie and her husband, 30 years her senior, as they welcome Greenfield and her crew into their lives: the limos, the jets, the little white dogs that yip around (and then get taxidermied and displayed in the halls after they die), the eight kids, the Filipino nannies, the ostrich-feather Gucci pants and crocodile Gucci boots, the gala fete for Miss America (all 53 contestants, and the reigning Miss), the swimming pool, and, of course, the Versailles under construction: 13 bathrooms, 10 kitchens, $5 million in marble from China, its own glass pyramid a la the Louvre.

The Queen of Versailles is a "riches to rags" story, quips David, his eyes filled with worry as his largest time-share property - the Planet Hollywood Towers Westgate in Las Vegas - is threatened with foreclosure. And although "rags" in this case is a relative term (commercial flights and Hertz rentals instead of Lear jets and stretch limos), Greenfield's film functions as a kind of funhouse mirror, reflecting America's buy-on-credit ethos and the "cheap money" mentality that fueled the market meltdowns.

Belief-defying and bizarre (dead pet lizards! dog poop on the carpets! warehoused Fabergé eggs!), The Queen of Versailles combines the voyeuristic thrills of reality TV with the soul-revealing artistry of great portraiture and the head-shaking revelations of solid investigative reporting.

It's a filmmaking coup, and an eye-opening look at a family's - and an entire culture's - catastrophe.


Contact Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at www.philly.com/onmovies.

 

Inquirer Movie Columnist and Critic
0 comments
We encourage respectful comments but reserve the right to delete anything that doesn't contribute to an engaging dialogue.
Help us moderate this thread by flagging comments that violate our guidelines.

Comment policy:

Philly.com comments are intended to be civil, friendly conversations. Please treat other participants with respect and in a way that you would want to be treated. You are responsible for what you say. And please, stay on topic. If you see an objectionable post, please report it to us using the "Report Abuse" option.

Please note that comments are monitored by Philly.com staff. We reserve the right at all times to remove any information or materials that are unlawful, threatening, abusive, libelous, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, pornographic, profane, indecent or otherwise objectionable. Personal attacks, especially on other participants, are not permitted. We reserve the right to permanently block any user who violates these terms and conditions.

Additionally comments that are long, have multiple paragraph breaks, include code, or include hyperlinks may not be posted.

Read 0 comments
 
comments powered by Disqus
Latest Videos:
Also on Philly.com:
letter icon Newsletter