ByTowne ByTowne Cinema
325 Rideau St. Ottawa K1N 5Y4
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A tale of riches to rags
‘This is the reverse of a rags-to-riches story. This is a riches-to-rags story.’
That’s the bemused voice of time-share entrepreneur and one-time billionaire David Siegel, who with his flamboyantly blonde wife, Jackie, forms the spellbinding center of The Queen Of Versailles. Lauren Greenfield’s documentary about the Siegels began as a chronicle of their profligate nouveau-riche lifestyle and their construction of America’s largest home – a 90,000-square-foot pile near Orlando, unironically called Versailles.
But as Greenfield was filming David (age 74 in the film), Jackie (30 years his junior) and their sprawling family of eight children, devoted staff, countless animals and myriad friends and hangers-on, the financial meltdown intervened. What might have been a meditation on wealth, greed and consumerism became something else entirely. The Queen Of Versailles turns out to be a portrait – appalling, absorbing and improbably affecting – of how, even within a system seemingly designed to ensure that the rich get richer, sometimes the rich get poorer.
The cluelessness, extravagance and just plain bad taste on display in The Queen Of Versailles make the Siegels ridiculously easy targets at a time when many Americans would be grateful to live in the Siegel kids’ white-columned playhouse. (In fact, one of their servants does.) But Greenfield shows gratifying compassion for her subjects, especially Jackie, who may have issues with compulsive shopping (as seen in one horrifying excursion to Wal-Mart), but also seems to have a sweet and generous heart: She has taken in a relative’s at-risk teenage daughter, and at one point quietly sends $5,000 to a childhood friend in need.
What’s more, Greenfield speaks with the staff members who see themselves as part of the Siegels’ extended family (as for David’s own grown children, that’s more complicated). When one of the nannies tearfully describes her own feelings of loss – of her family of origin in the Philippines, as well as the ersatz but emotionally powerful pull exerted by the Siegels – it’s clear that The Queen Of Versailles won’t give viewers a simple heroes-and-villains story or satisfying morality tale of 21st-century economic comeuppance.
It would be so easy to demonize Jackie Siegel, but by the end of the film, with the animals dying, her house descending into unkempt chaos and her marriage fraying, viewers can’t help but feel confounded sympathy for a woman who so willingly bought into the American Dream at its most perversely distorted. Attention must be paid, even to those who so outlandishly overspent.
– Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post
This web site is very useful, but the hard copy of the ByTowne guide still has its merits. People rely on it and love it. Plus, its calendar pages can be pulled out and posted on your fridge door, something that we still can't achieve with the web site. Get your copy today at many local stores, coffee shops and info centres around town!
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