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Mar 23, 2016The Queen of Versailles is an important historical document because it’s a microcosm of the financial collapse of 2008 and its aftermath. Director Lauren Greenfield began her feature-length documentary with the goal of chronicling the audacious construction of a new residence, the largest in the United States, based on and named after Louis the 14th’s old digs, Versailles. What began asThe Queen of Versailles is an important historical document because it’s a microcosm of the financial collapse of 2008 and its aftermath. Director Lauren Greenfield began her feature-length documentary with the goal of chronicling the audacious construction of a new residence, the largest in the United States, based on and named after Louis the 14th’s old digs, Versailles. What began as being potentially focused on this dream of the “King of Timeshares,” David Siegel, it was his queen that won over the director and subsequently the viewer.
We’re introduced to the King and Queen in their home as they pose for professional photographs. Between shots they divulge bits of history. Our queen of the would-be kingdom is Jackie Siegel. She grew up in modest means, though beautiful and smart. Rather than remain a secretary, she became an engineer. She eventually saw the writing on the wall as an older co-worker counted down his days to retirement. After winning a beauty contest, and one marriage and divorce later, she met mega-wealthy David Siegel. She was ready to settle down and make a family.
David Siegel, a single-minded workaholic, launched and expanded his timeshare kingdom to epic proportions and it thrived in a culture of living on credit. One particular quote would seem to be his personal philosophy as well as his business model: “Everyone wants to be rich; if they can’t be rich, the next best thing is to feel rich, and if they don’t want to feel rich, they’re probably dead.” His employees high-pressure sell vacation timeshares to “…anyone who is breathing.” The fact that these buyers may not be able to make their payments doesn’t seem to be a concern.
His hubris wasn’t limited to business dealings, but ran into politics. “I got George W elected president – personally, got him elected president,” Siegel says at one point in an interview. “Now, had I not stuck my big nose into it, there probably wouldn’t have been an Iraqi War (chuckling to himself), and maybe we might have been better off. I don’t know.” When asked how he was personally responsible for getting George W. Bush into office, Siegel replied “I, I would rather not say, because it may not necessarily have been legal.” Another question that doesn’t seem to cross his mind is asking himself what gives him the right to influence an election.
After the economic freefall, Siegel explained the challenges his business faced, “My business depends heavily on easy access to cheap money. We sell our product for 10% down and we take back a 90% mortgage. What we used to do was take those mortgages to the banks, and they would give us an advance. Well, unless we can turn that mortgage into cash, I can’t very well pay my employees with mortgages every week. But the banks are frozen, as far as my business is concerned.” Banks were no longer giving out loans and the life of living on credit was getting precarious, not just for regular citizens but for the one percent as well. Like a latter stage Charles Foster Kane, Siegel stews in his mansion wondering how he will go about “…finding the money.”
At one jaw-dropping point, Siegel laments, “I haven’t put anything aside [for college].” Meanwhile, five million dollars’ worth of Italian marble sits on pallets at a construction site at his would-be Versailles.
Siegel’s first son shares in his father’s misery, but more as an employee than a caring relative. “My father and I aren’t close on a personal level because it’s always been a business relationship.” The son hasn’t fallen far from the fatherly tree, referring to their clients as “moochers” who happen to accept the free tickets to Las Vegas shows they’ve been offered once they’ve endured an aggressive timeshare sales pitch.
The glimmer of hope, of love, in this sad mess comes from Jackie and their nannies. Jackie’s support of her husband and family during this time is commendable and is apparently the best she can do. While her husband wrestles with his ego and his desire to keep and continue construction on Versailles, Jackie has started a community thrift shop that sells hand-me-downs to struggling families. The nannies give the love to the Siegel children that they cannot give to their own children, thousands of miles away in the Philippines. One is left only with the hope that love will prevail in this misguided, materialistic family, and in this similarly troubled world.… Expand
Sep 9, 2012This is one of the most honest and compelling accounts of the conspicuous consumption that's come to define the cliches of America's nouveau riche. There seems to be no end to the uncomfortable self-awareness of a crumbling empire. Absolutely fascinating.
Aug 7, 2012What a refreshing film after all the movies filled with gunfire and other forms of violence substituting for a plot. If this wasn't true, you would have thought they had made it up. I kept wondering why they felt the need to build this monstrosity. But we all learned all much our society lived on debt and image when the economy crashed. I wanted to feel sorry for this family but youWhat a refreshing film after all the movies filled with gunfire and other forms of violence substituting for a plot. If this wasn't true, you would have thought they had made it up. I kept wondering why they felt the need to build this monstrosity. But we all learned all much our society lived on debt and image when the economy crashed. I wanted to feel sorry for this family but you couldn't as they created their own situation. She is a tacky mess(I'm being polite). He is a money hungry type who I wonder if he even cared about the people whose money he took in through his time share business.I read an article in the NY Times about the film and how they are now suing the director. The house was going to be 90,000 square feet. Need I say more.… Expand
Aug 4, 2012Schadenfreude - pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others. The entire audience at the screening of The Queen of Versailles experienced this feeling about the Siegel family; they are truly atrocious people. Two years ago, David and Jackie Siegel were billionaires. They had planes, Rolls Royces, multiple nannies for their seven kids, hosted parties for the Miss America pageant whileSchadenfreude - pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others. The entire audience at the screening of The Queen of Versailles experienced this feeling about the Siegel family; they are truly atrocious people. Two years ago, David and Jackie Siegel were billionaires. They had planes, Rolls Royces, multiple nannies for their seven kids, hosted parties for the Miss America pageant while David flirted with the contestants, and sat on a golden throne in their Orlando house during interviews for this documentary. They also began construction on a mansion called Versailles, a project which would become the largest house in the entire United States. It appears the filmmakers wanted to document the rise of this monstrosity of a house and display the lifestyle of the obscenely rich. Even better, these rich people liked to flaunt in front of the camera, not enjoy their splendor in private ala Bill Gates. David Siegel proudly claims he is individually responsible for George W. Bush winning the state of Florida and therefore the presidency; however, he chuckles that what he did was not exactly legal. Oh yes, schadenfreude. David called himself the 'King of Time Shares'. He built 28 resorts and an enormous building on the Vegas strip, parceled them up, and sold them 52 different times to vacationers. Then, in what must have exceeded all of the filmmakers' expectations, the recession hit and everybody in the country stopped buying time shares.
The Siegels were billionaires and yet, they had no savings. They paid cash for the Versailles house and only later put a mortgage on it because that meant millions more in ready, liquid money. They put nothing away for college funds for their kids. In fact, Jackie stares at the camera exclaiming her children might actually have to go to college now. The Siegels can no longer keep up with the Versailles mortgage payments and put it up for sale unfinished for $75 million. The housing market just crashed, tens of thousands of families are entering foreclosure, including Jackie's best friend, and the Siegels are trying to move a $75 million dollar mistake. The realtors may not be quite up to the task of marketing the house since one of the agents exclaims how unique Versailles (pronouncing it Versize) is. Nobody is buying time shares, therefore, there is no money coming in to the company, and David lays off 7,000 employees. He also fires 19 household servants. Dogs run around crapping all over the house and nobody picks it up. A lizard dies of lack of food and water, a fish floats at the top of its filthy tank, and one of the kids exclaims, "I didn't know we even had a lizard." Don't worry, Jackie still compulsively shops to add to the ridiculous piles of 'stuff' that the kids do not even know they have. She also maintains her plastic surgery regimen. Jackie's chest has enjoyed being a a third character in this whole mess. Other than the Michael Moore type of documentaries which have a stated agenda, filmmakers are thought to be neutral arbiters. They film the action, interview the subjects, and edit it in a way fair to all the players. However, no matter how one edits the footage, the Siegels are going to come off looking like some very horrible people. David is 30 years Jackie's senior and now that their funds are rapidly dwindling away, he is starting to get tired of his third wife. He hides in his office (a couch in front of a flat screen surrounded by papers and food scraps) to enjoy being away from the chaos which his house has become. You will not envy the Siegels. They still have more money than you do, but you would never switch places with them. I walked out of the theater with a new appreciation for my situation in life knowing that most of us are normal folks going about our business and enjoy time with our family and friends. The fact that there are folks like the Siegels out there, who by the way are shocked a bank bailout did not filter down to them, makes you shake your head in shame of the human race.… Expand
Aug 3, 2012This movie could so easily have been a big, broadside send-up of the the foolishness of tasteless, nouveau-riche materialism--and there IS a good degree of foolishness and tastelessness about the building of the Siegal's version of Versailles--but instead the couple/family, particularly the wife Jackie come off as somewhat sympathetic characters, caught up in pursuing a somewhat perverted,This movie could so easily have been a big, broadside send-up of the the foolishness of tasteless, nouveau-riche materialism--and there IS a good degree of foolishness and tastelessness about the building of the Siegal's version of Versailles--but instead the couple/family, particularly the wife Jackie come off as somewhat sympathetic characters, caught up in pursuing a somewhat perverted, but nevertheless understandable and common version of the American Dream (one that you can identify in countless families across the US and elsewhere) , only doing so to a laughable, outrageous degree..Jackie has voluntarily taken on the role of (college-educated) Barbie-doll trophy wife and baby-maker (if not real mother) who wants terribly much to please her workaholic, inattentive husband who in turn sees himself as the "pulled-myself-up-by-the bootstraps" bread-winner who happens to have fallen on hard times.((His apparent sexism isn't overplayed in the movie, and the reported lawsuit against him by a former employee for sexual harassment isn't even mentioned,) The irony, of course, is that the couple doesn't seem to have a clue that when the recession hits and the banks try to take away their property, this is pretty close to what they themselves have been doing to their clueless time-share clients for years, and hence they are just as subject to the vagaries of capitalism as are the unsuspecting clients (and servants) on whom they've made their fortunes.They seem to believe (or rationalize) that they have "done good," but in the end they are the butt of the same joke as the rest of us--the illusion of the (materialistic, consumption-obsessed)) American dream. And this is what makes The Queen of Versailles an exceptional movie.… Expand