The Queen of Versailles: Down but not out

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The Queen of Versailles – 2012

Directed by Laura Greenfield
Featuring David and Jackie Siegel

David Siegel claims to have personally gotten George W. Bush elected President.  He claims that it was not necessarily done in a legal fashion.  He says this with a mixture of pride and shame.  He knows the price that is being paid for his efforts.  All of the war, all the lost constitutional rights and then there was the economy going belly up. He got rich, and thought Bush would help him get richer.  He even got in on the dirty deals that helped cause the problems.  It didn’t work out the way he planned.  He went from being a billionaire to…touch and go.

Jackie Siegel worked for IBM at one point.  She quit when she realized she did not want to live in a cubicle.  She eventually became a beauty queen, then got divorced and met David, himself another divorcee.  His time share empire allowed him to marry someone many years his junior and it allowed her to live extravagantly.  Things went well enough for them to have 7 kids and take in a niece who was homeless.  They were living high on the hog when the bottom fell out.

The Queen of Versailles documents the disintegration of an empire built on hard work and shortcuts.  David Siegel spent much of his life ignoring his first family while burning the candle at both ends.  His second family got more of his time, if not his attention.  Now he spends his time on the phone, trying to figure out what he can unload to get the banks off of his back.

The working staff was losing on the deal even when things were going well.  Many of them lived in cramped quarters, caring for the Siegel kids while not seeing their own grow.  Now, after many of them were laid off (along with 1000’s of employees worldwide) their hours and duties have expanded more than their compensation.

The filmmakers do a wonderful job presenting everyone in an even-handed way.   We get to see the lack of reality that the ignorant but not necessarily dumb Jackie parades her family with.  She understands the gravity of the situation, but she also understands that they are raising children who need to feel like they live in a secure and loving environment.  David, however, has no such instinct of delivering comfort.  His main concern is the bottom line.  Everything else is secondary.  The most interesting aspect to the story is the couple’s reaction to the question of what they get from the marriage.

As with the best documentaries, this one started out as one thing and ends up covering something else entirely.  Whether you like or despise the subject is up to who you blame for the mess we are in.  They played as much a part as anyone in causing the mess, and they have suffered as much as anyone too.  Or not.

(**** out of *****)

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