James’ Brand New Blog

The Queen of Versailles rules at the Hyland Cinema

- September 4th, 2012

QueenofVersailles_Poster_sm

Poster for The Queen of Versailles, courtesy of mongrelmedia.com 

The best films in London are invariably down at the Hyland . . . & this week’s proof is a terrific documentary about the spectacular plummet of an obscenely rich Florida family into the — well, since dog poop is seen time & again in The Queen of Versailles, you get the idea.

Time-share emperor of the world David Seigel & his wife, Jackie Seigel, & their children & a few others made me weep at moments as the excess gave way to an almost Titanic sense of doom . . . & their efforts to keep their heads above water as the shark-like bankers circle somewhere just off-screen are laudable even as their foolish pursuits are laughable.

Since JBNBlog vows never to use the K-word here, it will suffice to say The Queen of Versailles is also a magnificent satiric blast from director Lauren Greenfield at the reality TV rich family star fakeries.

Amazingly, as the Siegels’s nightmare becomes ever worse, they never turf Greenfield or her cameras from their world. It may be the photographer/documentary maker is one of the few sympathetic ears around as their “friends” flock off & the Siegels have to fire thousands of employees and cull their herd of nannies. (A cruel phrase . . . but see the movie & it may seem on target).

Also amazing about this foolish/sad/brave new world, no character sees the irony in calling the biggest house in America (the Siegels’s American dream/nightmare project) after the palace of doomed French royalty.

See yourself & all of us somewhere in this hall of mirrors.

Background material from the always excellent Mongrel Media follow . . . but first . . .

Here’s a production question: Is executive producer Frank Evers related to the baseball Hall of Fame second baseperson Johnny -Evers (1902-1929, 125 pounds, now that’s a career!) . . . one of the elder Evers infield partners was Frank Chance . . . anybody know about this chance Evers-to-Evers connection . . . it’s pronounced ee-vrrrs, isn’t it?

Mongrel Media

Presents
THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES
A Film by Lauren Greenfield
(100 min., US, 2012)
Language: English
WINNER
U.S. Directing Award: Documentary
2012 Sundance Film Festival

SYNOPSIS
THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES is a character-driven documentary about a billionaire
family and their financial challenges in the wake of the economic crisis. With epic
proportions of Shakespearean tragedy, the film follows two unique characters, whose
rags-to-riches success stories reveal the innate virtues and flaws of the American Dream.
The film begins with the family triumphantly constructing the biggest house in America,
a 90,000 sq. ft. palace. Over the next two years, their sprawling empire, fueled by the real
estate bubble and cheap money, falters due to the economic crisis. Major changes in
lifestyle and character ensue within the cross-cultural household of family members and
domestic staff.3
DIRECTOR’S STATEMENT – LAUREN GREENFIELD
The Queen of Versailles is a story about a self-made billionaire family: their larger-thanlife plan to build the biggest house in America, and subsequent struggle in the wake of
the economic crisis. The film visually documents the American Dream: its values and
lifestyles, its relationship to home ownership, and the ways it has encouraged all
Americans to reach beyond their economic means. A familiar story writ large, the film is
an epic narrative that speaks to anyone who has had to adapt to the economic crisis.
The film follows two unique characters, David and Jackie Siegel, whose rags-to-riches
success stories set the stage for the ultimate realization of the American Dream. When I
first met Jackie in 2007, she and her husband David were triumphantly constructing their
new home: a 90,000 sq. ft. palace inspired by both the chateau in Ile-de-France and the
Paris Hotel in Las Vegas. After the 2008 crash, the gargantuan home, aptly named
Versailles, became a symbolic backdrop for Jackie and David’s personal journey, as they
navigated financial setbacks that forced them to put their dream home on the market, and
downsize their lifestyle and business. As they fall back down to earth, Jackie and
David’s characters develop in unexpected ways as they adapt to the new circumstances
with surprisingly relateable humility and candor. The way they respectively handle these
challenges shed light on both their characters, their hard-knock origins, and imbue their
story with an “everyman” quality that is as unpredictable as their change in fortune.
Throughout their journey, their extended coterie of domestic help, family members, and
friends from diverse class and ethnic backgrounds, gives their world an “upstairs,
downstairs” prism through which we gain insight into other interpretations of the
American dream, and the universal ramifications of the financial crisis.
I first met Jackie, the title character of The Queen of Versailles, while photographing
Donatella Versace for ELLE Magazine. She had been flown to Donatella’s party because
she was one of her best customers at the time. I found her refreshingly friendly and
candid, with a combination of chutzpah, self-effacing humor, and lack of pretense,
qualities that are sometimes obscured by the protective veil of great wealth. Jackie
shared with me that she was the mother of seven children who she flew around the
country in a private plane on their frequent travels, and that she was building the biggest
house in America. She invited me to visit Florida and photograph their family. Little did
I know this would be the first shoot of a three-year relationship with the Siegels, and the
beginning of a film about their lives.
For the last two decades, I have been working on a long-term photographic work about
wealth, consumerism, and the international influence of the values of the American
Dream. Although I originally went to see Jackie to take still photographs, once I got to
know her and her family, it was clear that her story that could only be told through film.
In her typically welcoming style, she invited me to stay in their 26,000 square foot
“starter” mansion, where I found a household full of warmth and constant activity, 4
amazing characters, a menagerie of animals, and an unusually down-home sensibility
where Jackie and David managed to stay true to their humble origins and tastes, while
living in an outsized fantasy world of castles, private jets, priceless antiques, and themepark quality activities for their children.
In an age of cultural obsession with the rich, chronicled by reality TV (“Keeping Up with
the Kardashians,” “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills”), I wanted to tell a deeper,
cinema-verite story of an extraordinarily wealthy family that had the ambitious goal of
building the biggest house in America.
And then the financial crisis got in the way of the 30-year expansion of the timeshare
business that had made David a billionaire, as well as the building of the palace that was
his reward. When life started to stray from all of our expectations, I was fortunate that
Jackie and David had the courage to stay committed to the project and allow me to
document their journey. As two remarkable individuals who had come from rags to
riches and weathered many storms, they didn’t fear this one. They understood, on some
level, that their journey was a statement about the American Dream and the challenge the
crisis posed for that dream.
The Queen of Versailles is my second feature-length documentary (THIN was at
Sundance in 2006), and my fourth film. But in some ways, it is the first project where
the sociological and aesthetic voice of my photography is realized within the medium of
film. With intimate access, and an empathetic perspective that was the result of long
periods of time spent with the family, The Queen of Versailles combines environmental
portraiture in a series of interviews, with cinema-verite “decisive moments.” Although I
could never have predicted the turn of fortune that happened in the making of this film,
the generosity and candor of the Siegel family in the process allowed me to document a
human drama that is also a morality tale with lessons for us all.
-Lauren Greenfield 5
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
LAUREN GREENFIELD (Director)
Acclaimed documentary photographer/filmmaker, Lauren Greenfield is considered a
preeminent chronicler of youth culture, gender and consumerism, as a result of her
monographs “Girl Culture,” “Fast Forward,” “THIN” and other photographic works,
which have been widely published, exhibited, and collected by leading museums around
the world.
In addition to The Queen of Versailles, Lauren has previously directed three awardwinning documentary films – THIN, kids + money, and Beauty CULTure. THIN was
selected for the Official Competition at Sundance in 2006, was nominated for an Emmy
for Best Direction, and received the prestigious John Grierson Award for Best
Documentary at the London Film Festival in 2006. kids + money, also selected for the
Official Shorts Program at Sundance 2008, won several Best Doc Awards (AFI, Ann
Arbor, Gold Hugo), and was selected as one of the top five nonfiction shorts in the world
by Cinema Eye Honors 2009. Beauty CULTure was the featured documentary of the
record-setting exhibition at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles
(Summer 2011), which received the Lucie Award for Exhibition of the Year (2011).

American Photo named Lauren one of the 25 most influential photographers working
today. Her work was recently showcased in the Getty Museum’s historical exhibition,
“Engaged Observers: Documentary Photography since the Sixties” (2010).

CREDITS
Evergreen Pictures presents
In association with
BBC Storyville
Impact Partners
Candescent Films
In co-production with
Plus Pictures
DR: Danish Broadcasting Corporation
VPRO
A Lauren Greenfield film
THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES
Directed and Produced by
Lauren Greenfield

Categories: Entertainment

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