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The Queen of Versailles

Q&A with Producer Danielle Renfrew Behrens Oct 2 7PM ONLY • Muenzinger Auditorium

The Queen of Versailles

The largest private home in America is Biltmore, the former Vanderbilt estate in Asheville, N.C., which is now filled with tourists. A recent competitor for that honor was a 90,000-square-foot structure in Orlando, Fla., but construction was halted before the home could be filled with monsters.

Those monsters are the super-rich Siegel family, whom we meet in the slyly funny smackdown documentary “The Queen of Versailles.” Patriarch David is the septuagenarian owner of the most aggressively marketed time-share company in the world. Wife Jackie is a fortyish ex-model with fake boobs and a compulsion to shop. Scattered around a house that they've outgrown are seven spoiled kids, one refreshingly cynical stepdaughter, countless pooping pets and an army of immigrants to clean up the messes.

Director Lauren Greenfield first approached the family for a documentary about the building of their new home, a mock-palace patterned after Versailles that would triple their space and place them in the record book. But in the midst of the project, the American economy collapsed and the Siegels went (relatively) broke. Suddenly a movie that drew lines for the class war and playfully lobbed a cream pie at the plutocrats had to treat some unexpected casualties.

As the palace gets put on the auction block, Jackie is forced to forgo luxuries like a limousine to drive her to McDonald's. David is faced with selling his headquarters at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas, where his salesmen arm-twisted vacationing suckers into signing lifelong commitments.

With the Siegels' bootstrap backstories, the film is not quite the hatchet job that David's lawsuit against the director would suggest, and it's even likely that many reality-TV fans will relate to the couple's trashy aspirations. But when David brags that he singlehandedly stole an election for George W. Bush and helped inflate the bubble that led to this mess in the first place, the Siegels move to the back of the sympathy line, behind the middle-class customers they fleeced — let alone the family's Filipino housemaid, who hasn't seen her family in 20 years.

Although it's a guilty pleasure, “The Queen of Versailles” is artful enough that both the prosecution and the defense could invoke it when the peasants cry “Off with their heads!”

— J. Williams, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The Queen of Versailles

Mon October 1, 2012, 7:00 & 9:15, Muenzinger Auditorium

USA, 2012, in English • official site

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