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By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
The Queen of Versailles
Directed by Lauren Greenfield
Magnolia Home Entertainment 11/12 DVD/VHS Documentary
PG – thematic elements, language
The gap between the rich and the poor in America keeps growing as corporate executives take in larger salaries while more and more middle-class people are falling into debt and poverty. Lauren Greenfield has made a very inventive documentary about a very rich American couple whose wealth is put in jeopardy following the 2008 stock market crash. It is the true story of a man who goes from rags to riches and then plunges into a downward spiral of riches to rags. It offers a behind-the-scenes look at what writer and filmmaker Michael Moore meant when he said:
"We as Americans have allowed a very small group of people to be highly skilled practitioners of one of the seven deadly sins, and that sin, of course is greed."
David Siegel is a 74-year-old billionaire who has made his fortune as a Florida time-share mogul. He lives with his third wife, Jackie, a 48-year-old former beauty queen, and their eight children. They have a 26,000 square foot mansion but are building a 90,000 square foot mega-mansion modeled after France's most famous chateau. Siegel and his wife are very pleased that when completed it will be the largest single-family residence in America with a private ice-skating rink, a bowling alley, a baseball field, and ten kitchens.
Early in the documentary the Siegels are sitting pretty as political power players in the election of George W. Bush in 2000, as major contributors to charities, and as enthusiastic supporters of beauty contests. But the financial crisis of 2008 delivers a heavy blow to Siegel's profitable time-share business. He blames the bankers for his troubles, and his wife condemns the federal bank bailout as not doing enough to help "the common people — us." This slip of the tongue conveys both the fragility and the moral blindness of this wealthy couple who are not very supportive of each other during their financial melt-down. Siegel is infuriated with the insensitivity of his wife and children who are leaving lights on in his big house. She laments the loss of her ability to shop until she drops.
At the end of the documentary, we learn that the former billionaire's Versailles mansion has not been sold and he vows to make a comeback. According to recent polls, the rich are putting the recession behind them whereas the rest of the country is still stuck in a rut and even going further downhill.
Special features on the DVD include deleted scenes and the theatrical trailer.
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by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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