America's seemingly endless fascination onscreen depictions of the rich and vulgar has always been long on disgust, short on nuanced analysis. A new documentary, The Queen of Versailles, released July 20, seeks to change that.
The Queen of Versailles stars David and Jackie Siegel, a time-share resort billionaire and his 30-years-younger ex-model wife, as they build a 90,0000-square-foot dream home in Orlando, Florida. No McMansion is this: so monstrous is this house — the largest in the city, in fact — the Siegels refer to it as Versailles, the residence of the French monarchy. You'll understand why when you see the 10 kitchens and the bowling alley inside. Jackie Siegel proudly owns a pair of $17,000 Gucci crocodile boots and their household staff numbers in the double-digits.
You hate them already, don't you?
Well, give them a chance, at least. No Real Housewives are these. Filmmaker Lauren Greenfield took a "fly on the wall" approach to filming the couple, she told The New York Times, which lets their lack of pretension and generosity shine through. Both David and Jackie came from "humble origins," she said, and together they've raised eight children. Like other Americans adjusting to the financial crisis, the Siegels are forced to put a halt to construction on Versailles. Greenfield seems to think the film humanizes the couple.
David Siegel did not agree. Prior to The Queen of Versailles' debut at the Sundance Film Festival this year, he filed a lawsuit against Greenfield for defamation for the way the Sundance promotional materials depicted the financial health of his company, Westgate Resorts. Throughout filming, Westgate Resorts lays off thousands of workers and is sued for unpaid bills. The filmmakers changed the language, but it seemingly only made him more angry and he broadened the lawsuit, claiming the entire film misrepresents his company. Greenfield's counsel, famed First Amendment lawyer Martin Garbus, implied to the Times that Siegel just huffy when the film didn't turn out to be the blowjob he was expecting.
One wonders whether David Siegel flipped out because he misunderstands the difference between "public relations" and "documentary." Somehow the knowledge that the subject hates the doc only makes me want to see it more.