A disturbing documentary chronicles society’s obsession with success and excess
Dir: Laura Greenfield. US. 2018. 106mins
In a photographic and documentary career spanning over 25 years, visual anthropologist Lauren Greenfield has been drawn to the extremes of human behaviour around the world; from deadly eating disorders (Thin) to a billionaire couple’s attempts to build a replica of a French palace (Queen Of Versailles). Realising that the majority of her work shared a unifying theme of excess, Greenfield has worked since 2008 to wrangle her vast back catalogue into Generation Wealth; a multi-form project spanning exhibition, book and this documentary. The result is both a compelling, damning cultural observation and testament to Greenfield’s own visual artistry.
Greenfield’s personal approach gives the film a sharp intimacy
Greenfield’s talent as a sensitive, accessible filmmaker, coupled with the resonance of her subject, should ensure Generation Wealth attracts further festival attention following its plays at Sundance and in Berlin’s Panorama, after which it will head to SXSW. Limited theatrical play is likely, and the film should also do well on VOD platforms.
While documentary tradition might look to separate filmmaker and subject, Generation Wealth takes a deeply personal approach. Greenfield makes no apologies for how closely she is entwined with her subjects, or that the film is as much about exploring her own psychology as it is about those she interviews. Just as her subjects are embroiled in the pursuit of ‘more’ - be it in the form of money, fame or body image - so Greenfield realises that she, too, has an obsessive relationship with her work, always chasing the next perfect image.
That this has come at a cost to her family life is revealed in on-screen conversations with her sons Noah and Gabriel who, over the course of filming, grow from young boys into adolescents. “I got used to growing up without you around,” says teenager Noah, frankly. “The damage has been done.”
This personal approach gives the film a sharp intimacy, and from here Greenfield pulls out to reveal how similar patterns are reshaping lives and families the world over. In Russia and China, the newly wealthy splurge on handbags and houses their parents could never have afforded. In America, a stockbroker who waited to have children finally has her daughter in her 40s, via expensive medical intervention and finally a surrogate. Social commentators speak about rampant consumerism, and the resulting commodification of everything from power to sex, as the death knell for civilised society
It is with Greenfield’s interviews with Kacey Jordan, a porn star and infamous Charlie Sheen playmate, that the dangers of the pursuit wealth are at their most obvious, and devastating. Long associating happiness with fame and fortune, Kacey has endured degradation, addiction and depression in pursuit of celebrity. When we meet her for the final time she has returned home to start anew, finally realising that real value is to be found in family, friends and being true to yourself. Generation Wealth is a timely reminder that this is something we would all do well to remember.
Production companies: Amazon Studios, Evergreen Productions
International sales: Ana Vicente, Dogwoof firstname.lastname@example.org
Producers: Frank Evers, Lauren Greenfield, Wallis Annenberg
Executive producers: Regina K Scully, Lilly Hartley, Jeffrey Tarrant, Geralyn Dreyfous
Cinematography: Robert Chappell, Lauren Greenfield, Shana Hagan, Jerry Risius, Lars Skree
Editors: Aaron Wickenden, Michelle Witten, Victor Livingston, Dan Marks
Music: Jeff Beal