07/19/2012 01:48 pm ET | Updated Sep 18, 2012

American Dream Gone Gilded Age: Queen of Versailles

You remember what happened to that queen of yore, the one who in a moment of mythic indifference to her subjects' suffering suggested they eat cake. That queen is so deliciously portrayed by Diane Kruger in Benoit Jacquot's fine Farewell, My Queen. In a new documentary, Queen of Versailles, an American version of her, a distortion of her regal imperious posturing is found in Florida. When photographer/filmmaker Lauren Greenfield was photographing Donatella Versace for Elle magazine, she interviewed a woman who spent about a million dollars a year on her wardrobe, much of it Versace, and learned the woman was building a home in Orlando that would be modeled on the famed French palace as well as the Las Vegas Paris Hotel. Intrigued by the idea of the biggest, grandest house in America in her exploration of the influence of affluence, Greenfield set out to photograph, then film this 90,000 sq. ft. erection.

Somewhere in the middle, as the American economy took its nosedive in 2008, work on this house stopped. As such, this story is bigger than the sum of its parts, the "queen" Jackie, her husband, Westgate titan David Siegel, their children, staff of domestics, and values. The documentary becomes emblematic of what happened to ordinary Americans, magnified to the riveting entertainment level of a reality show that could be entitled "Bankruptcy for Billionaires."
Of course, the whole mess is also fodder for the tabloids as David has filed suit against the filmmakers saying they manipulated the material. Well yes, but even filmmakers can only work with the material they are given: Perhaps in his own hubris, David is remarkably candid about his marriage to Jackie, his lack of planning for the future of his many children with her, his stubborn refusal to deal with his real estate in a responsible way. Jackie, in the meantime, a leggy blond poster girl for American self-invention basks in the neon limelight; helping publicize the film, she wants it to say to people, see, you can lose everything and come out on top -- without irony, even your head.

After the movie's premiere this week, a buffet supper was beautifully laid out at the Royalton, for an audience of, what else, fashion and society A-listers, an ingenious roster put together by the queen of party planners, Peggy Siegal, just back from Paris: Kathy and Rick Hilton, Gigi Mortimer, Dennis Basso, Nicole Miller, Todd Oldham, W's Stefano Tonchi. No cake was served.

A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.