The Queen of Versailles (2012)
|Year Of Production||2012|
|RSDL / Flipper||Dual Layered||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||4||Directed By||Lauren Greenfield|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||1.85:1|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.85:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
In 2006 photographer and filmmaker Lauren Greenfield was doing a photo shoot for Elle Magazine when she met former beauty queen Jackie Siegel. The vivacious blonde explained to Greenfield that she and her billionaire husband David Siegel, the timeshare king, were building a house in Orlando Florida based on the Palace of Versailles. Not only was this (depending on your point of view) an inspired design or a tacky monstrosity, it also happened to be the largest house in America.
Accepting an invitation, Greenfield visited the Siegel's at their already palatial home in Florida and began filming the extraordinary opulence of their lifestyle. Sitting on a gold throne with his trophy wife on his knee the 72-year-old timeshare billionaire looked every bit like a man who had overcome the poverty in his past and was now in a position where every material object was at his fingertips. His wife, dressed in short shorts and designer gear, was ready to create the masterpiece or monstrosity just across the river from Disneyworld, close enough to see the fireworks at night.
Up to this point, about a third of the way into the film, it looks like the sort of documentary which would appeal to fans of the Kardashians and Lifestyles of the Rich and the Famous. But then it takes a turn, becoming an even more fascinating insight into wealth and marriage in crisis.
David Siegel overcame his humble origins and became one of America's richest men through refining and perfecting the timeshare model. His company Westgate Properties is the biggest timeshare company in the world with resorts in every location. The jewel in the crown, however, was the amazing Westgate building on the strip in Las Vegas. Operated by his eldest son, this was the most opulent timeshare accommodation possible in the city of dreams. When the global financial crisis hit the vast financial empire began to crumble. Siegel, more than most, had profited by the availability of cheap money and sold countless timeshare properties in the sub-prime market. Suddenly no one was buying timeshare and no one was paying for the timeshares they had bought.
So begins Siegel's struggle to maintain control over his empire. The film is half his bitter recognition that all he has worked for in his life may be collapsing and a look into what happens when the well-heeled have their credit stopped. Cutbacks have to be made and the film charts, with horrifying lucidity, the relevance of financial crisis to every stratum of society.
Mostly we follow Jackie. She still has the money to live in their mansion but the dream house, the Palace of Versailles, is put on hold. Unfinished and symbolic of the State of America it is put on the market for $75 million "as is" or hundred million dollars if finished. The sight of Jackie trying to get to grips with the changing world is laughable and yet tragic. The house staff are cut from 19 to 4 leaving the house a manic spectacle with mess everywhere including dog poop throughout. There is a certain schadenfreude to be got from seeing the "come from nothing" beauty queen with her fake breasts and Botox finally having to try travel on a commercial airline.
The great thing about this film is that we are constantly forced to re-examine and evaluate these characters. In the midst of the crisis Jackie economises by buying Christmas presents at Wal-Mart. A seemingly prudent measure and yet the mountain of stuff, even for their multiple of children (including a foster child) seems extravagant on their budget and one shot, of a housemaid carrying a bicycle through a garage filled with old bicycles, says something about Jackie's refusal to accept reality.
There are other scenes which are equally thought-provoking. David is portrayed, towards the end, as a grumpy bitter man and yet he has a point. His wife and kids carry on as if they are still at the top of the world, leaving lights on throughout their massive house. The light shone on the timeshare industry is also fairly harsh. Lured into the offices with the promise of free Disneyworld tickets for anyone who attends a presentation, the sales staff are drilled relentlessly to ensure that no one leaves without signing on the dotted line. The film is as much about the flaws in the American Dream as it is about this family undergoing change.
Those who do a little reading after watching the film will find that there are two important events not featured in the film- one for discretion and the other as it occurred after the film was completed. The first was the sexual harassment charge brought against David Siegel which resulted in a large financial settlement and the second was the fact that Siegel sued Greenfield alleging that she had not been authorised to film at Westgate. The court action was unsuccessful and the film stands as it is.
Some critics have called this film the most piercing view of the Global Financial Crisis and the American Dream. It is certainly not as technical as any of the dramas such as Margin Call or documentaries by Michael Moore and others. Nevertheless it does bring something different and fascinating to light. For the curious it is worth noting that the Siegel's have apparently made it through the crisis though in what shape remains to be seen. The Palace of Versailles is still unfinished.
The Queen of Versailles comes to DVD in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio consistent with the original aspect ratio. It is 16×9 enhanced.
The film was shot on digital high-definition video and picture quality is decent throughout. The colours are bright and clear and consistent. The flesh tones are accurate.
There are no problems with compression on this DVD nor are there any other noticeable technical problems.
There are no subtitles.
The Queen of Versailles has an English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track running at 448 Kb/s.
In point of fact this documentary is pretty much all fly on the wall camerawork and there is little need for a surround track. Nevertheless the higher bit rate is appreciated.
The dialogue can be heard clearly throughout.
There are no technical problems with the sound. The music by Jeff Beal is quirky and provides a perfect accompaniment for this film.
|Surround Channel Use|
There are only a few extras.
There are approximately 20 minutes of deleted scenes included most of which don't add anything in particular to the film. There are some further shots of real estate agents walking through the Palace and another heartrending story from one of the Siegel's housemates who has given up their own relationship with their family back in Honduras to get the money to support them.
The amusing trailer to the film.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
The Region 1 version is the same. Buy local.
Anyone looking at the cover of this DVD would think that it is just a look at yet another surgically enhanced beauty queen living the high life. It certainly has that element but the film goes much deeper looking at the ultimate emptiness of the American dream. Yet, as much as we want to criticise and critique the lifestyle adopted by these people would we, when presented with extraordinary wealth, act any differently?
The DVD is fine in sound and vision terms and contains some short extras.
|DVD||Cambridge 650BD (All Regions), using HDMI output|
|Display||Sony VPL-VW80 Projector on 110" Screen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.|
|Amplification||Pioneer SC-LX 81 7.1|
|Speakers||Aaron ATS-5 7.1|