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Greenfield Talks Sundance Hit 'Queen of Versailles': A Microcosm of the 1%

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood July 19, 2012 at 4:18PM

Photographer Lauren Greenfield lucked out with "Queen of Versailles," her second feature documentary. Her instincts drew her to forge a connection at a 2007 party with billionaire trophy wife Jackie Siegel, one of Versace's best customers, and to follow her around with a camera. The Sundance doc was scooped up by Magnolia, which opens it Friday.
David and Jackie Siegel in 'The Queen of Versailles'
David and Jackie Siegel in 'The Queen of Versailles'

Siegel is the narcissistic center of the film; when things get tough, she gets a face peel. "She's a lot of paradoxes," explains Greenfield, who remains fond of her. "She's not white trash. She's really smart, comes from the lower middle class." After earning a degree in engineering from the Rochester Institute of Technology, "she realized that her beauty would get her farther where she wanted to go than her engineering degree. She played into her choices. She lived in an infrastructure that gave her millions of dollars. The spigot got cut off."

With servant support reduced from 15 to one housekeeper, Siegel is revealed as a disorganized and overwhelmed mother of seven children who can barely cook, as pets die and dog poop litters the floors. Knowing these reduced circumstances, Siegel admits, "she never would have had so many children. She likes people, has a warm heart, has fun with the kids. Domestic skills are not her strong point."

Despite all the friction and tension between David and Jackie Siegel in the film, "they are still together," says Greenfield. Siegel almost took his business to the brink, but is fighting his way back to solvency. "David personally signed for everything, he could come back or be a pauper." And he remains determined to keep and build their Versailles, which is still on the market-- marked down to $65 million.

This article is related to: Documentary, Documentaries

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.