Documentary maker Lauren Greenfield has chronicled riches to ruin stories before, particularly in The Queen of Versailles, a prescient essay in Trumpian Floridian excess about the Siegels and their bid to build the biggest house in America.
They re-appear here in a far more rambling survey of Greenfield’s obsession with money and its corrupting influence. The film maker looks back at her photography work and tracks down some of her former subjects to see how a life of wealthy privilege and the pursuit of money has worked out for them.
It becomes a parade of miserable grotesques, but a sadly predictable one, stories of drug abuse, botched plastic surgery, workaholism, and dysfunctional families.
Not sure what her point here is – you don’t need to be rich to be unhappy, you just have more money than others. Greenfield’s photography has a harsh, garish beauty, David LaChapelle meets Martin Parr, but her documentary techniques are less revealing here. Subjects include an obnoxious cigar chomping tycoon called Florian, a Mom having plastic surgery in Brazil, a stripper in Vegas, a CEO having IVF problems, a son of a rock star (if REO Speedwagon can be considered that), an ex-rapper turned insurance salesman.
Greenfield turns the camera on her own family and work, possibly showing that her pursuit of the perfect shot or the right interview is just as pernicious. But it isn’t and ultimately I think we’re supposed to see her unit as a functioning, happy family cell, or at least as good as one can hope for in a world corrupted by a consumerist aesthetic.
Is this a depiction of a world in collapse, the fall of an Empire? Chinese and Russian new money excess is nothing new or surprising and there is no alternative offered in Greenfield’s film other than some sobbing platitudes about family being all that matters, regrets and realisations reached far too late. I didn’t really care about or for any of these people – although they do make for some good photos.