Tuesday, August 21, 2012
The Queen of Versailles, a new documentary film by Lauren Greenfield, offers us a glimpse into the world of the mega wealthy. David Siegel, who made his fortune in time sharing, and his wife Jackie, decided to build the largest single family dwelling in the country, a 90,000 square foot home that is approximately the size of Cleveland. It seems 26,000 square feet wasn't enough for their family of nine. Unfortunately for the Siegels, the housing crisis and subsequent financial meltdown derailed the project and the film chronicles its effect on the family. It's easy to make fun of rich people doing stupid things - in this case it's too easy - but there's a bit more nuance to disliking this family which goes beyond the ostentation. Early on we come across an unusual item in their current home- a "stuffed" dog on the piano. We all love our dogs, but even Liberace would have found this strange. In fact, with the exception of 1950s cowboy Roy Rogers who stuffed both his horse and dog, nobody I'm aware of hired a taxidermist to immortalize their pet. When was the last time you heard a veterinarian say to someone who just lost a beloved dog, "would you like to bury,cremate or stuff your dog? Later on in the movie Jackie notices that there's no water in the cage where the pet lizard lives. Upset by this, she proceeds to talk with her adolescent daughter who was responsible for taking care of the animal. During this conversation the audience, Jackie and her daughter discover that the animal is not dehydrated, but actually dead having died from neglect! Who knows for how long? The kid, the ultimate obnoxious bratty adolescent replies with a glib, " Oh, I guess that makes me a horrible person, just a horrible person," her way of saying, "What's the big deal, it's only a reptile." The stuffed dog and dead lizard were only the prelude for a scene that can only be described as "close encounters of the strange kind." Toward the end of the movie, the entire family is in the living room when Jackie says, "Where are the puppies, where are the puppies?" Obviously, given this family's history of responsibility with animals, nobody knows. Suddenly, everyone is scrambling trying to find the two small white dogs. The viewer thinks that the reason is simple: big house, lots of places to get lost or hurt. Right? Wrong! The family also has a pet python slithering around and nobody has a clue of the snake's whereabouts. Maybe I'm missing something. Perhaps they called in the snake whisperer to have training sessions with the python. "You be nice to the little dogs, hug them gently, not too tightly, no swallowing, I SAID NO SWALLOWING! That wasn't nice. Bad snake. No gerbils for you today." They eventually found the dogs that were probably hiding from the family, as was the snake. If I'm the snake and I see the stuffed dog on the piano, I know where my future lies, and I'm going to get out of this house as fast as I can. I have a theory. It's called the "sometimes you only need to know one thing" theory and you can accurately evaluate people. It's hardly scientific, but, intuitively, it tends to work. In the case of the Siegels, the stuffed dog was enough, but coupled with the dead lizard and roaming python, well, you get the idea. I didn't get upset when they lost their money. Has anybody seen the rabbit? Or Grandma?