Greetings again from the darkness. John Lennon wrote “Money don’t get everything, it’s true. What it don’t get, I can’t use. Now give me money. That’s what I want.” Gordon Gekko said “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” Photographer-Director Lauren Greenfield (THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES, 2012) has spent the past 25 years chronicling the excesses of society. She now lets us in on what she has seen under her microscope (camera lens). It’s no surprise that we see a society that values money and beauty, no matter the cost. She also makes this very personal by confessing her own decisions and experiences along the way.
Serving as her own videographer, Ms. Greenfield’s film began as a photographic gallery exhibition, was published as a photography book, and has now morphed into a feature length documentary – one that blends much of her previous work. Her lens focuses on such varied subjects as celebrity kids, porn stars, eating disorders, the fashion world, beauty pageants for kids, high commerce, plastic surgery, family sacrifices, the end of the gold standard, and historical societies. It will likely cause you to blush, as well as shake your head in a disgusted all-knowing manner.
An unusual lineup of interviewees includes author Bret Easton Ellis, whose “Less Than Zero” is acknowledged as an inspiration by Ms. Greenfield; porn star Kacey Jordan, whose affiliation with bad boy Charlie Sheen made tabloid headlines; former billionaire Hedge Fund Manager Florian Homm; a workaholic woman with no time for a family or life; a participant from “Toddlers and Tiaras”; and journalist Chris Hedges who offers up a history lesson.
Every segment of the film is about excess. The beauty pageant kid crows “money, money, money”. Mr. Homm croons “come to me” as if speaking directly to money. The son of a rock star (Kevin Cronin of REO Speedwagon) speaks to growing up wealthy, and a high school classmate of Kate Hudson recalls her spouting off about her famous parents. Ms. Jordan admits to hoping one of her sex tapes (she has “lots”) will put her on top like it did for her hero Kim Kardashian. Mr. Hedges explains via the Great Pyramids, that societies accrue their greatest wealth at the moment their decline begins (which of course is an obvious mathematical certainty). His point is that all “great” societies of the past have crumbled, but he expects when it happens to us, it will bring down much of the world.
As director Greenfield interjects her own family (including her two sons) into the film, we get the feeling she is either making amends or perhaps using the process as her own therapy for the sacrifices she made for her career … a career that puts a magnifying glass to society. She discusses the emphasis on wealth during the Ronald Reagan Presidency, and even throws in a glimpse of similar excesses in China, Moscow, Ireland and Dubai.
The old values of hard work and saving money have morphed into what has now become the new American Dream of consumption and luxury. It’s a Kardashian society – or at least a society that dreams of living the life of a Kardashian. By the end of the film, the entertaining tales of Mr. Homm’s lust for the almighty greenback has given way to a devastatingly sad (in a pitiful way) story unworthy of his cigar twirling. A Beverly Hills woman so desperate to purchase the hot new luxury handbag explains the “what’s next” syndrome. The fixation, even addiction, to money, status, and physical beauty seems to be one that can’t be cured … though the film ignores those who don’t share in the “dream”. We are reminded to be careful what you wish for, and that “Money can’t buy me love” … or even much happiness. Ms. Greenfield’s tale attempts to end with a lesson in values – hug those close to you, but the overall message is entirely too downbeat for such a final pick-me-up.