Friday, August 17, 2012

Queen of Versailles (Rhoades)

“Queen of Versailles”
Is a Singular
Housing Boom

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

A few months ago I again toured Biltmore House in Asheville, NC. With 250 rooms, it is America’s largest private home.
However, “The Queen of Versailles” – the documentary that’s found this week at the Tropic Cinema – tells us about the second largest and most expensive single-family house in the America. It’s immodestly called Versailles, after the famous royal château in the Île-de-France region of France.
Filmmaker Lauren Greenfield spent the better part of three years filming and editing this doc about David and Jackie Siegel’s 90,000 square foot house in Orlando, Florida. David is the billionaire founder of Westgate Resorts, the largest privately owned time-share company in the world. His wife is a former model, 30-some years his junior.
Intrigued with the couple’s ostentatious consumerism and “the idea of a house as the ultimate expression of the American Dream,” Greenfield and her crew all but moved in with the Siegels, doing interviews and filming the house’s step-by-step construction.
Work was stalled along with the economy, but Greenfield doggedly documents this setback and how it has affected the Siegel family. The house remains only 60% complete, with no interior walls, no plumbing, and no electricity.
The family’s had to make do with their “tiny” 27,000 square foot home in the meantime.
Nearly seventy feet tall, the incomplete palace sits on ten acres of lakefront property. When completed, it will boast thirteen bedrooms, twenty-two bathrooms, nine kitchens, a bowling alley, a roller-skating rink, an arcade, an indoor swimming pool, a fitness center, a spa, staff quarters, and a 20-car garage.
Along the way, Greenfield tells us more about the people than the house. Despite the fact that nobody is buying time shares and David had to lay off 7,000 employees, Jackie still compulsively shops, constantly visits beauty spas, and keeps up her plastic surgery. After all, she’s the third wife, the trophy wife. She works hard to stay in the game and her husband indulges her.
Greenfield recorded it all. With the Siegels’ full cooperation.
However, on the eve of the film’s premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, Siegel sued Greenfield for defamation. He didn’t like the fact that the film documented his failing timeshare business. After all, he has $400 million of his own money tied up in a new Las Vegas timeshare resort.
Oddly, he and his wife didn’t seem too concerned with the film’s portrayal of them. “You would think they would be happy for someone living the American Dream,” Jackie Siegel shrugged it off.
One moviegoer summed it up like this: “I wasn’t prepared for the extreme revulsion I felt for these characters, particularly David Segal. These folks are poster children for the worst extremes of our materialistic, narcissistic culture. Their values are money, ostentation, self-aggrandizement, acquisition and mindless hedonism. They are venomous leeches on society.”
Another said, “You couldn’t write a screenplay like this if you tried.”
“Why is everyone so concerned about how we spend our money?” asks a puzzled Jackie Siegel. “We give a lot to charity. We keep the economy going.”
As F. Scott Fitzgerald said, The rich are different from you and me.
The unfinished house is up for sale at $75 million.

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