Friday, August 17, 2012

The Queen of Versailles (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
The Queen of Versailles 
If you desire to see a documentary that will make John Waters hysterical and want to chew a hole in his Watanabe suit, please rush out to see "The Queen of Versailles". It has some of the most unbelievably arrogant dialogue that I've ever heard in a film, not to mention a documentary. You won't be disappointed. And better yet it is topical, making a fitting companion piece to the underrated films "Margin Call" (2011) and "Casino Jack" (2010).
The film focuses on David Siegal and his family. Siegal is CEO and owner of Westgate the largest timeshare company in America. Siegal brazenly claims he was singlehandedly responsible for George Bush's victory in 2000, but he doesn't go into detail. Siegal married Jackie, a former Miss Florida, and a woman twenty years his junior with a bust that juts out like the hood of a 1950s Plymouth and doesn't move. 
But of course.
At the start of filming, Siegal and his wife are designing their new house, billed as " the largest house in America", worth seventy five million dollars with 300 bathrooms. They modeled the house  and it's adjoining properties after the Palace of Versailles. As it happened The Siegals  were in Las Vegas and they fell in love with Versailles there and had to have one of their own.
But of course.
The director, Lauren Greenfield, asks Mr. Siegal why he built such a domestic Demogorgon and his answer is simply, "Because I can." Shockingly, Former President Bill Clinton gave the exact response when asked about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. 
Selfishness knows neither political affiliation, age or gender as this film clearly shows.
Siegal is a harsh power player and it is quite  hard to like him here, but he is not a mean man.  Indeed he is well respected by his peers and his employers all seem to like him. His nanny, a down to earth woman from The Philippines clearly looks to him as a hero and a Saviour. 
What is unbecoming, comical and I admit, part of the fun, is the unapologetic arrogance that infects the whole family, even in the face of their own demise. The family has eight kids,  four dogs (at least, by my count) a white tiger, an exotic lizard, a gecko several peacocks, and a few rodents. The dogs poop all over the Persian carpets. One wonders why the maids don't go insane.
Jackie is quite headstrong. You gotta love her for heading to McDonald's immediately after her gym for cheeseburgers. And in the middle of the film it becomes known that Donald Trump calls to complain that the Siegal's Westgate Resorts sign is blinding his vision.
This family doesn't know what backing off is. When they tire of their palatial grounds which are still in construction, they fly on their private jets. Siegal and his family unabashedly strive to mimic royalty, specifically Louis XIV. There are images of Siegal throughout the entire grounds: on paintings and on wall clocks.
Then the financial crisis hits and hits them hard. Westgate Resorts is forced to lay off thousands and severely curtail their sales.
But Alas, all is not lost: Mrs. Siegal appears at Westgate Towers to survey the silence in her fur coat (she is always the optimist) with her triple D breasts at the ready. After all, they could prove an able shield against protesters.
"This place was once so full of life," Jackie says, ala Andy Warhol. "Everyone was so happy..."
The family lizard is dead from starvation and there is a quick shot of a vandalized statue in the garden but  there are worse things afoot: The kids are forced to travel by commercial airlines. "Mommy, what are all these people doing on our plane?" weeps one Siegal squirt.
"Who's my driver?" Jackie inquires at the Hertz counter when her plane lands.
"There is no driver," the agent bluntly replies.
Even though Westgate Resorts is in crisis mode, Jackie's  compulsion remains in full force. She fills four shopping carts at Christmas. Mr. Siegal elaborates:  
If Jackie  has one kid, she wants seven, if she has one dog, she'll take four."
The film swerves into Gallows humor when we see the Palace being put up for sale, unfinished and delapidated. The pool is green with algae, a regular Grey Pastel Gardens.
David Seigal, once the life of the party is now a Scrooge.
And Jackie becomes more vain.
"Does your marriage give you happiness?" Siegal is asked at the film's last minutes.
A flat "No." is the answer.
"The Queen of Versailles" may show a family at its selfish worst, but it's like watching a car-wreck or engaging in a taboo. You can't help it. There is something of a Shakespearean Devil's bargain within the entire family that permeates like a noxious gold leaf perfume. Somehow, I couldn't look away and you won't be able to either.
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