Monday, January 28, 2013

The Queen of Versailles: Finding Humans Beneath the Money

A photo-shoot: David Siegel, seventy-four, lounges comfortably on an ornate throne with gold naked baby angels and ornate swirls and scrolls. Jackie Siegel, his busty forty-three-year-old wife, perches on his lap, his hand holding her forearm, her fingers lightly gripping his thigh, her bare foot rubbing against his sleek dress shoes. The scene ends with Jackie’s premonitory words: “My husband, when I got married to him, all I wanted was love from him, and he always said, ‘Trust me,’ and I put my trust into him. So if, so…we’ll see what happens.” Yes, we sure will.

This introductory scene to director Lauren Greenfield’s documentary, “The Queen of Versailles,” sets up the conflicting emotions that arise throughout the film. It first associates self-prescribed royalty to the Siegel family, while Jackie’s final comment warns how billionaire time-share mogul David Siegel eventually fails. The soft, enchanting piano music playing throughout the posh scene adds a feeling of monarchal power.

People enjoy watching powerful people fail. Just as we had a strange fascination when Brittney Spears broke down and shaved her head, seeing David’s company fall apart after the 2008 recession and watching the cocky, self-aggrandizing man struggle brings a strange joy and satisfaction.

Instead of feeling solely satisfaction at the gradual demise, however, Greenfield also creates pity for the dysfunctional family. Greenfield juxtaposes certain images and scenes to create doubt over what is right and what constitutes normal. One scene, for example, shows the family seated around the dinner table for their father’s birthday, David on his cell and disconnected. Immediately after however, you see David’s 90,000 square-foot dream-house falling apart and desolate, and you pity him as he watches his dream crumble.

By the end of the film you can’t decide what to feel. You are sick of the children because of their lack of respect and responsibility, yet you pity them because they must deal with a disconnected and ungrateful father. You hate narcissistic David for disrespecting his family, yet you pity him for watching helplessly as his lifelong work and dreams fail. You are infuriated with Jackie because of her vanity and inability to stand up to David, yet you pity her because she loves a husband who doesn't love her back.

Greenfield tells the story she wants to tell. She builds the family’s sense of royalty and excessive materialism through camera angles and sound to make the Siegel's failure even more enjoyable. She juxtaposes scenes and images in order to draw attention to humanistic aspects of a ridiculous rich family most would never even consider.


1 comment:

  1. I love your intro, Aliera. It really pulls the reader in and puts them in the setting of the film. The small details—her foot rubbing against his—really help make the scene something the reader can picture.
    I'm not a huge fan of your use of the second person. I'd like to see the review focus on your observations about the film without telling readers what their feelings should be about the film. All of what you say is really great and perceptive, but it might be nice to play around with the wording a bit.