Solway Selects: July 2012
Arts and Culture Editor Diane Solway’s must-sees for July.
Billionaires David and Jackie siegel were in the midst of building the biggest house in America—a 90,000-square-foot mansion in Orlando, Florida, modeled on Versailles—when the 2008 recession hit. By then, filmmaker Lauren Greenfield was already documenting the couple’s bid to erect their dream palace and stayed on for their fall from grace. “That’s cinema vérité at its highest,” Greenfield told me recently. “To be there when life is unfolding.”
How lucky for her that David Siegel, 77, the founder of the world’s largest privately owned time-share company, and his gloriously unfiltered wife, Jackie, 43—a former beauty queen—allowed her a candid view of their fraying life as they put the mansion on the market for $75 million (no takers) and tried to stanch Jackie’s spending habit while dealing with their eight children, 19 staff members, four dogs, five cats, and various peacocks, chinchillas, and lizards. Greenfield, winner of the U.S. documentary directing award at this year’s Sundance for Queen of Versailles, opening July 20, manages to create both a comic exposé of excess and a sympathetic parable about the American dream, while allowing her subjects’ humor—and, yes, even their humility—to peek through. “You could see the stress on the family,” Greenfield said. “But I also saw this other side to Jackie and David—in terms of their being survivors, that surprised me.”
What may surprise viewers, however, are other, less forgiving glimpses, such as those of Jackie’s binge-shopping at Wal-Mart or of the melancholic Filipino nanny who lives in the Siegel kids’ former dollhouse and hasn’t seen her own children in years. Greenfield sees Queen as “an allegory about the overreaching of America—a morality tale about going too far.” The Siegels, meanwhile, keep going. Their Versailles is still on the market—but no longer cash-strapped, they continue to work on the property. “It’s probably going to take another four years for the thing to be done,” Jackie said when I asked if she planned to move in. “By then my kids will already be going off to college. So I’m thinking about converting their rooms to guest suites.”