Posted by: greercn | October 3, 2012

The Queen Of Versailles

Expecting a little frothy French history? Think about a different Versailles, altogether.

This Lauren Greenfield documentary tells the tale of how David Siegel – a timeshare billionaire – decided to build his own Versailles and got into trouble when the lending bubble burst in 2008.

It’s a very entertaining film but, for me, it’s just as uncomfortable to be expected to laugh at the rich who are in trouble as it was when “The Imposter” required me to laugh at the poor and troubled.

The more stuff you have, the more stuff you want, somebody says early in the film. The Queen of England has lots more stuff and loads of houses and I might be beheaded if I laughed too much at her. Okay, maybe not beheaded, but certainly criticised a lot.

So, just for the record, I don’t mind anyone being rich. It’s not inherently amusing, to me.

So, I question the focus on fashionable dysfunctionality. Jacqueline Siegel is a bubbly third wife who is 30 years younger than hubby and a former beauty queen and boy oh boy does she love stuff. Her shoe wardrobe is bigger than most houses.

And she has loads and loads of dogs and children. Really, there are about a gazillion of everything.

Having a nearly 40,000 square foot home is, apparently, cramped so David and Jackie decide to build a 90,000 square foot palace, meant as a significant improvement on the French royal palace at Versailles. There is one of the loveliest stained glass windows I have ever seen and the staircase takes my breath away.

“The Queen of Versailles” tells the story of David’s struggle to keep his flagship building in Las Vegas and his new Florida Versailles, which overlooks the Disneyland fireworks from its main view. The film won Best Documentary at Sundance this year.

Timeshare is not a very popular business, in that it gets publicly disliked, and it has its share of sharks. But the big contributions of the Siegels to arts and homeless charities are never brought up in this movie. You find yourself laughing at the excess and silliness of these people. Then, you come out of the cinema and realise that you have been laughing at people in trouble.

Everyone at Stratford Picturehouse enjoyed this a lot and I never looked at my watch or looked away. But this is a limited look at the Siegels and an instructive tale about the effects of the economic recession. Do see it but know that documentaries, like all movies, distort the truth to make their points.

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