The ridiculous antics of the moneyed elite
Generation Wealth review: Documentarian Lauren Greenfield is the David Attenborough of the super-rich
Film Title: Generation Wealth
Director: Lauren Greenfield
Running Time: 106 min
For a quarter of a century, the photographer and documentarian Lauren Greenfield has carved out a compelling niche as the David Attenborough of the super-rich. Sitting down at the start of Generation Wealth, as she surveys decades worth of her own work, Greenfield happens upon a 12-year-old Kim Kardashian, Tupac in the year before he died, and the fabulous Jackie Siegel, the star of Greenfield’s marvellous 2012 documentary, The Queen of Versailles, and an old girlfriend of Donald Trump.
Generation Wealth is a multimedia project that is intended to be a summation of Greenfield’s entertaining oeuvre. “I want to find out why our obsession with wealth has grown,” explains the film-maker.
Perhaps ironically, her latest project is at its best when revelling in the ridiculous antics of the moneyed elite. Young Chinese women receive hilariously limited language lessons so that they can pronounce Dolce and Gabbana. Disgraced hedge fund manager Florian Homm purrs through clouds of cigar smoke from exile in Germany: “I love money: come to me.” David Siegel, Jackie’s husband and the one-time owner of the largest house in America, explains that everybody wants to be – or at least feel – rich: “And if they don’t want to feel rich, they’re probably dead.”
It’s the feeling rich folk that drag the film down. See Cathy, the bus driver, whose addiction to plastic surgery has left her destitute and unable to raise her children. Or six-year-old beauty-pageant princess Eden Wood, who dreams of a room full of money she can kiss. Or former porn star Kacey Jordan, who once “dated” Charlie Sheen, and who attempted to film her own suicide.
These aspiring and sometimes ruined folk are fascinating but they surely belong in a different film. So too, do Greenfield’s attempts at auto-therapy. “Was I a happy child?” she asks her mother, supposedly in an effort to understand her own interest in the one per cent.
The director’s mediation of maternal guilt and motherhood sits uneasily alongside the man in an enormous fur coat wearing the “33 pounds of gold and diamonds given to me by superstars around the world”. The added implication that children give life meaning is misguided and a little platitudinous.
These competing strands might have been successfully integrated as a larger critique of late consumer capitalism, but there’s no room for the “c” word between Jeff Beal’s twinkling score and the glossy, sunny camera work of Robert Chappell, Shana Hagan, Jerry Risius, Lars Skree and Greenfield herself.