Star - The Siegel's
Genre - Documentary
County - USA
Certificate - N/A
Run Time - 100minutes
Oscar nomination - 0
Blockbusters - £3.00 per night rental
Amazon - £8.00 DVD (£17.82 Blue Ray Import)
The Tories may want you to believe its excessive spending on public service that got us into this mess but the reality is all major western democracies, and, indeed multinationals, function ok with big debts, as long as they are growing their economies and bank balances enough to pay back the interest. The phone company 02 has a £48 billion pound working debt yet no sign of it going under. That's just one multinational of hundreds in debt. All big business entities, which include countries, can only make money from borrowing. But for politicians in search of votes they have to grow our western economies and provide jobs and a living wage, tricky now that most manufacturing is moving to South East Asia and their sweatshops, so simply allowed the banks to go crazy to pay for it all by making money out of nothing through complex trades that hid those debts, both the banks and the governments only worrying about the inevitable collapse when it happens and preferring to take the political commissions and dividends now. But the massive hidden debt was mostly sub prime, and mostly originating in America, where people like the star of this documentary, David Siegel, were cynically selling the property owning dream to poorer Americans, the sub-prime who couldn't get credit for whatever reasons and would never meet the payments if the economy built on the housing bubble burst - and boy did it burst, the film telling the riches to rag story of David Siegel and the worlds biggest timeshare empires collapse. Money was cheap back then and so property magnets like Siegel could build and borrow, build and borrow, and once you had renters and owners in those properties you had more money to keep building and so borrowing, until the house of cards cometh tumbling down when your own mortgage repayments and rents get just too big, as it spectacularly did for billionaire Siegel. All brash western countries rely on the housing bubbles to grow their economies.
We meet the Siegel's as their bespoke 90,000 sq feet mansion lays incomplete and up for sale as they face the demise of their empire after the credit crunch, Westgate Resorts in debt to needy creditors to the tune of £300 million dollars, the said house and land on offer for a mere $75 million. When the house is finished it would have been the biggest mansion in America, extravagantly modeled on the magnificent Parisian 'Palace of Versailles', or, at least, the kitsch version, no fewer than 30 bathrooms and a 500 seater ballroom on offer to potential buyers.
The Queen of Versailles is the 43-year-old surgically enhanced bleached blonde Jacqueline Siegel, who looks more like a Vegas stripper than the lady of the house. Jacqueline has eight children by her 74-year-old husband David, who she met when he was just 60, and surprisingly loyal as she has stuck with him as the house of cards came crashing down around her stilettos and not once did she flinch and try and take the divorce payout before it was all gone, although seemingly oblivious to the companies financial crisis as she has carries on spending regardless in the film. Things are so tight she has even had to tell the kids 'they may have to go to college now'. The films surprisingly voyeuristic camera, considering, sneaks a look in the families garage after they return from the Christmas shopping run with bikes and toys packed high in the SUV trunk, only to be stacked even higher on to even bigger plies in the garage of similar items by the nannies and maids, at least thirty pushbikes visible. She treats having kids toys around the place like having kids, blankly declaring to the camera that when she had her first child this lady called a nanny looked after it so why not have seven more kids and seven more nannies if bringing up kids is that easy, which she did.
This woman is clearly addicted to the absurdly rich lifestyle and milking every last drop, but both from humble backgrounds, that, as it turns out, the only sympathy on offer for the Siegels in this film. She tacitly admits she is a trophy wife and there isn't much going on in the love and bedroom department and her stressed husband in the film almost blanking her as another member of staff, one of many sad moments in the film. For all her sins though she is a surprisingly likeable airhead consumer and I'm sure another rich old fool awaiting her attentions if she does jump ship. Jacqueline's main commodity has always been her looks and figure and as a previous Miss Florida and Miss Universe entrant she has worked it to get this far, previously married to a rich New York banker and using the divorce pay off to set up in Florida to meet the David Siegel's of the world, previously linked to the Donald Trump before she married David.
The family still live in their old and more modest Florida mansion - a mere 26,000 sq ft - with toy dog poo everywhere and pets going unattended, a gecko laying comically dead in its tank with its tongue out. The family is like The Osborne's but without the rock n roll. The kids don't seem to be brats and although they are spoiled they could easily be an everyday Florida family if they lived in two up - two down, such is the absence of the social class system in Florida, where Jackie may once again be headed.
The company's survival seems to depend on Westgate's prime tower block apartment building in Vegas, worth around $390 million, archive footage showing the many sales and telesales reps trying to sell the properties just before the crash. The onsite selling rooms are empty now. If you're not familiar with timeshare it involves selling off all 52 weeks of the year in a holiday property or apartment to separate investors, that payment or payments buying you those weeks for the rest of your life or agreed time period in that property, the poor peoples option to buy a holiday home or flat. In England we wisely prefer static caravans, why our subprime debt was just 6% of GDP! Most of the people who attend the sales drives tend to be poorer Americans tempted by free gifts but the ones who are gullible enough to see it as a lifelong investment and sign up. Again most of the subprime debt was poor fat Americans and minimum wage immigrants who knew no better. But without these consumers playing their part it's hard to generate growth, capitalism about buying stuff you don't really need or can afford.
The filming began for director Lauren Greenfield in 2007, just before the credit crunch, and so we do see the grander world the Siegels once lived in and not surprisingly find it hard to let go of, mixing with the stars and living their private jet and limousine lifestyle to the full. But the project only became a firm film festival winner when Greenfield got to study the family unit when it all goes wrong, a somewhat vulgar microcosm of the credit crunch staring her right in the face at just the right time. As a sports writer myself it's far easier to write entertaining stuff when the team are playing badly as it is when they are winning, victorious goals painting their own picture, the case with this documentary. You get the feeling this film was only ever green lighted by the family before the crash to make them look good. David Siegel even tried to sue the same filmmakers he and his wife had courted when he realized the real story was his demise and his wife's access and nonchalance, the film ending up the perfect parable on how to lose you wealth and so dignity.
You will laugh out loud at one moment and then gape in awe the next, that type of film, one of the better documentaries of 2012. The allegory of America overreaching and dropping the world in the Chinchilla poo poo did just $2 million at the box-office, a rather sad return for enjoyable eye-opener. Some of the scenes did seem staged, like when Jackie picks up a Hertz rental car at the airport and asks the guy at the desk 'where the driver is. Scenes of extravagant shopping also seemed 'agreed' with the director to try and stir outrage from the viewer. But documentary viewers are generally clever people and for them, the fun is all about working out what is real and what is not, the hidden narrative. Jackie is clearly smarter than her spacey caricature and enjoying the publicity, as all beauty queens do.
Today and because business is bouncing back, the Siegel's dream home is reportedly back under construction, like their ongoing marriage. David managed to rescue it from repossession and last month told The Wall Street Journal that it will be complete in about two years. Well he would say that wouldn't he, once a salesman always a salesman.
Imdb.com - 7.0 10.0 (3,768 votes)
Metacritc.com - 80% critic's approval rating
Rottentomatos.com -95% critic's approval rating
The Guardian -'Never has grotesque wealth looked so unenviable, or its removal been so entertaining...'
Daily Telegraph -'The temptation to be moralistic must have been overpowering, yet Greenfield finally manages to summon sympathy for people who at first seem vain, selfish and greedy'.
Empire Magazine -'A bizarre and mesmerizing journey to the heart of Cloud Cuckoo Land'.
Chicago Sun -Times -'What I left with was not hatred. I disapprove of the values they represent, but I also find them fascinating and just slightly lovable'.
New Yorker -'The paradox of wealth without refinement remains unexamined but emerges as a metaphor for the American Dream itself'.
The Metro -'...their plight plays like the financial crisis in miniature. Or perhaps it's in macro'.
The Independent -'The Queen of Versailles leaves viewers with one feeling about the Siegels: Let them eat stale cake.
Arkansas Times -'One of the great unsayable truths about the American dream is that it is a bit of a Ponzi scheme ... the system admits a glimmer of hope that anyone, no matter how lowborn, can rise to the top'.
The Sun -'Prepare to be shocked, disgusted and compelled'.
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