New on DVD: The Queen of Versailles (2012)

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It’s a testament to the evenhandedness of Lauren Greenfield’s documentary The Queen of Versailles that you don’t end up hating its money-centric subjects.

These are precisely the kind of rich, clueless people who generated such anger during the recent political campaigns.

David Siegel, 73, and his trophy wife Jaqueline, 43, are – at the film’s outset, anyway – among the richest people in America.

He is the founder and president of the world’s biggest time share operation, which typically dangles free show tickets or other perks in front of vacationers if they’ll make room in their schedule to hear the sales pitch.

She’s the stay-at-home mother of eight ... although all the real work falls to a small army of servants, including a Filipino nanny who hasn’t seen her own child for 20 years and confides to the camera that she considers herself to be the true mother of the Siegel kids.

What Jackie Siegel is really good at is spending money. And she’s got so much that no matter how many consumer sprees she launches, she can’t burn through it. Now if she only had a modicum of taste.

Greenfield was attracted to the Siegels because they were building America’s biggest single-family residence outside Orlando.

They had visited France and fell in love with the Palace of Versailles which, it turned out, was not for sale. But there was nothing to stop them from building their own version, a sprawling 90,000-square-foot behemoth with giant curved staircases, 11 kitchens, 30 bathrooms, and an entire massive wing for the kids.

On a tour of the still-unfinished structure one of Jackie’s gal pals marvels at the size. “Is this your room?” she asks, clearly impressed.

“It’s my closet,” Jackie replies.

As David Siegel says, they have the money, so why not?

To his credit, Siegel (who raised some eyebrows by sending his employees an e-mail advising them that their jobs might be in jeopardy after an Obama win) is a workaholic who cares more about the success of his business than spending his personal fortune ... in fact he doesn’t seem all that enamored of money.

The Missus is another story.

The Queen of Versailles raises a troubling question: Does having too much money make you dumb?

Because Jackie, while she may be a former beauty queen, got a degree in engineering. You can’t be too stupid and pull that off.

Yet after nearly 20 years living in the lap of luxury her IQ seems to have dropped precipitously. She lives to use her credit card. You get the impression she had seven children (and adopted a niece) mostly because she wanted to buy stuff for them.

It would be easy enough to dismiss Jackie as a bubble-headed bimbo. For starters, everything she wears is designed to display her pneumatic breasts, which are obviously fake (we know because we’ve seen photos of a younger, much less-endowed Jackie). And she so loves her fluffy little white dogs that when they die she has them stuffed and placed around the house.

But here’s the thing: She seems like a nice person.

Yeah, she’s totally spoiled. Clueless about the value of money and how most everyone else struggles for it. But at heart not a villainess.

And then comes the meltdown of 2008 and the Siegels are suddenly peering into a deep financial crevasse.

With the banks no longer lending money, David can no longer sell time shares. None of his potential customers can raise enough cash. He loses his big new building in Las Vegas. His company fires hundreds of people. Work stops on the Siegel’s still-unfinished dream house, which now falls quickly into ruin in the Florida humidity and heat.

Most of the family’s household servants are let go and Jackie, utterly unused to that sort of work, allows the dog poop to collect on the shiny parquet floors.

David comes home at night and grumpily sequesters himself in his study, doggedly making phone calls in the hopes of saving his company.

“This is the reverse of a rags-to-riches story,” he tells the documentary crew. “This is a riches-to-rags story.”

Despite David’s calls for fiscal austerity, Jackie doesn’t get it. Yeah, she now shops for the kids’ Christmas presents at Wal-Mart ... but she still fills a half-dozen shopping carts with stuff that the youngsters glance at briefly and then set aside.

And taking her brood on an out-of-town trip, she approaches the airport rental-car desk and asks the disbelieving clerk who her driver will be.

She’s told that Hertz provides only cars, not chaffeurs.

About the Author

Robert W. Butler is a lifelong Kansas City area resident, a graduate of Shawnee Mission East High School and the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. For several decades he was the movie editor of the Kansas City Star; he now writes a movie-themed blog at butlerscinemascene.com. He joined the Library's Public Affairs team in 2012.

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