Sunday, January 27, 2013

Almost Like A Riches to Rags Story--Almost; ‘Queen of Versailles’ tells Two Tales

“Why are you in a bad mood?” Jackie Siegel, mother of seven, the titular subject of Lauren Greenfield’s 2011 film “Queen Of Versailles,” asks her husband David.

We peek through a crack in the door, every word quiet, yet altogether the only thing heard.

“Maybe this month I won’t pay the electricity bill,” David Siegel, 74, quietly contemplates. He is unmoving on his throne of leather and paper bills. Jackie is hidden behind the door frame. “When they shut off the lights you’ll appreciate the electricity,” he growls.

Loud and audacious, but frighteningly calm, Greenfield’s documentary focuses on the family that built--or almost built--the largest house in the United States, the 90,00 square foot “Versailles” in Orlando, Florida. A film that inadvertently turned introspective on the immense financial collapse of Westgate Resorts owner and billionaire, “Kingmaker” David Siegel.

Moments like the ones above are where “Queen” becomes frightening, but endearing. I remember when my grandfather would roar through my dad for leaving the lights on--something childishly frivolous to me at the time. While Jackie doesn’t react the same way, the weight of financial security weighs heavy on this once-opulent family. It's Greenfield portraying a family losing its glue.

That’s something that throbs the heart and sticks in the head regardless of the Siegel's financial fortune.

But while that remains quietly unnerving, the bombastic nature of the “Queen,” and her family, reign in tandem with their financial woes. “Queen” is loud because even though the film is set before and during the 2007--2011 financial crisis--a startling, upsetting time for many--Greenfield follows the Siegals from pinnacle to crash in the way a reality television show producer would: close-ups of gold-framed, personalized family portraits featuring David as a French king in his own imagined Versaille; interviews with the nannies separated from children for over 17 years and forced to don Rudolph costumes during a Christmas party.

Bouncing from one Siegal to the next, another dramatic scene to another, filming feels like a cinematic episode of “The Real Housewives of Orlando.” Greenfield films plain faced, not obscuring with lense flares or rack focuses, choosing not to overlay a narration that would combat with the eccentricity of the Siegels’ own voices. So much so, that when David Siegal says the family has “hit a rough patch” that only the wow-factor of the Siegel-family lifestyle,
both before and after their crash, can speak on his behalf.  

1 comment:

  1. Hi there Zac,
    I love how made the scene alive for the reader, from the get-go. I also like the comparison to the Real Housewives drama. You really let the reader get a vibe of the doc.
    To be honest, I don't think you need the fifth paragraph, and it isn't just because it's in first person, it does not seem as strong as the rest of your review and it takes away your authority a bit. The paragraph just before it "Loud and audacious, but frighteningly calm" says it all, and then some.