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Photographer and film-maker Lauren Greenfield created an instant classic in 2012 with her documentary The Queen of Versailles, in which she found the kind of interviewees that every director dreams about. They were the Siegels, the horrendously nouveaux super-rich American family (timeshare mogul married to brash beauty queen, plus kids) who tried to build the biggest private house in the US, bizarrely modelled on Versailles, before the 2008 crash left the over-leveraged Siegels in the lurch, marooned in their half-built monstrosity. The film brilliantly pointed up so much that was wrong in our society: money worship, debt addiction, celeb narcissism.
By contrast, her follow-up film Generation Wealth, is a disappointment. There is no real analysis, and everything here was said more succinctly and eloquently in Versailles. This is frustratingly diffuse, without a clear focus, and is dependent on a range of interview subjects who get what increasingly looks like a glibly fetishising and covertly grotesquefying treatment, which is then redeemed with a Hollywood ending: they are finally allowed to tear up and realise – mostly – that their rampant consumerism has been awful and wrong.
Tiresomely, Greenfield includes an awful lot about herself and her family, in a rather self-regarding and supercilious manner. Ostensibly, that’s so she can ask if she might not be just as driven and selfish as her interviewees. It’s a charge she raises in order to acquit herself, and she certainly never photographs her own children in the same fierce, hard, affectless colour and light that made the still images of her earlier subjects so brutal.
Greenfield starts by tracking down the supercool LA rich kids she shot for her 90s collection Fast Forward. Now middle-aged, they appear to be miraculously mature and centred, thus slightly anticipating the happy ending that is still an hour or so away.
A whole film could have been made about just them, and she has some comment from Bret Easton Ellis on the proto-Kardashian worldview of these spoilt princes and princesses. But these people are shelved for the time being in favour of others: a fraudulent trader called Florian Hamm who is legally exiled in Germany, from where the US authorities cannot extradite him: he has a truly yucky way of sucking on a cigar. There is also a former child beauty queen and her mom; a former porn star associated with Charlie Sheen; a workaholic Wall Street mistress of the universe; a cosmetic-surgery addicted woman – and more. Each is interviewed, each makes the required worrying impression, but says nothing that isn’t obvious, and nothing that tells us why the situation is worse or different in 2018 than 1918 or 1818.
Perhaps the question is: how rich is too rich? Is it the point at which you lose it all, or the point at which you can no longer manage the addiction? Or is it when you become vulgar? Is that these people’s crime? To be hilariously and photogenically crass? There must be plenty of people who are as cultured and tasteful as the director herself, yet who are secretly as preoccupied with money as these pop-eyed bond traders and trailer-trash empresses. A frustrating disappointment.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Generation Wealth review – how rich is too rich? | Documentary films