Berlinale Blog 2018 #7: GENERATION WEALTH – Panorama

     |    Friday, der 23. February 2018

Lauren Greenfield widmet sich in GENERATION WEALTH den Superreichen und denen die es gerne wären. Andrew Horn schildert seinen Eindruck des Dokumentarfilms im realeyz Berlinale Blog #7:

A favorite quote of mine comes from the Humphrey Bogart/Ava Gardner movie, “The Barefoot Contessa” where a dashing man of old world wealth explains, “to make 100 dollars into 110 dollars, this is work. To make 100 million into 110 million, this is inevitable.” Lauren Greenfield’s film “Generation Wealth” is all about people for whom “the inevitable” is a way of life. They are people for whom however much they have, they always want more, and more is never enough. Her subjects are not just the privileged but also the wannabees, desiring a place at the table, even if they can’t afford to pay the bill.

Greenfield has been documenting exorbitance for over 25 years. Her previous film work includes “The Queen of Versailles” about a billionaire couple who want to build the most expensive house in the world, “Bling Dynasty” about China’s nouveau mega-rich, “Kids + Money” about spoiled rich kids in LA and “Beauty CULTure” society’s obsession with beauty. “Generation Wealth” is also the title of a recent retrospective in NY of over 200 of her photographs, which arguably fall into the category, intentional or not, of what’s called “bling porn”.

And indeed the film offers us many instances of such bling porn including a spangled pre-kindergarten beauty queen (“I want a whole room full of money. I want to kiss it”), a 13 year old kid showing off handfuls of hundred dollar bills, a gold toothed rapper sporting the longest limo in the world (including swimming pool), a young porn star who brags of being addicted to money, a high power business woman who came to Greenfield’s attention by holding the record for spending the most money on body maintenance as well as children of rock stars, shoppers in nouveau riche Chinese luxury malls, assorted Russian trophy wives, and an LA bar mitzvah party at the Whiskey Au Go Go – go go girls and all.

As one interview, the pre-requisite arrogant Eurotrash hedge fund trader – living in luxurious exile in Columbia after a wire fraud indictment – tells us “If you’re not rich, you want to feel rich. If you don’t want to feel rich then you’re probably dead.” And so we also get the hispanic high school girl who got in with the privileged in-crowd at her high school by being voted “best body”, the woman school bus driver who goes into major debt to get full body makeover surgery and the cute small town girl who came to LA and made her fortune getting picked up by Charlie Sheen. “Sex is an exhibition of commerce” says Ms. Greenfield, and this is capitalism gone wild.

Greenfield tells us that her obsession with this obsessiveness came from being a middle class kid in a fancy LA high school. Without the fashion, snazzy car or “best body” looks, she was totally out of place. “The things you didn’t have were the things I didn’t believe in,” explains her mother, and if Greenfield’s supportive home life helped her through the wilderness, the feeling of being on the outside looking in clearly never left her.

That she made a career out of documenting the bling, not only in photos but particularly on film, turned out to be a great advantage in making this movie because she was able use past and present material to provide us with her subjects’ rise and fall. And sinners that we are, we are just as Kardashian-ly fascinated by all the sick opulence, as we are savoring the National Enquirer schadenfreude of their crash, and in some cases, burn. And Greenfield very deliberately allows us to see her subjects get their comeuppance – which is, by the way, occasionally positive, and by doing so attempts to give us a moral tale. While not exactly enjoyable, it is pretty mesmerizing. Like a car crash, you can’t look away.

Andrew Horn