Lauren Greenfield’s Self-Retrospective Spares no Excess
DIRECTED BY LAUREN GREENFIELD/2018
Featuring jet-setting high rollers, high-end cosmetic surgery, Wall Street tycoons, and no shortage of Vegas decadence, talented photographer and journalistic artist Lauren Greenfield’s Generation Wealth serves as a twenty-five year career retrospective. Referencing her past photo exhibits and documentary films (including Thin and Queen of Versailles), perhaps this latest film isn’t the best starting place for a Greenfield newcomer. It is, in effect, a sequel to all the work that she’s done up to this point.
The title “Generation Wealth” is this film’s own worst enemy, with its wildly scattershot narrative being a close second. Released in conjunction with a retrospective coffee table book of the same name (indeed, the movie almost seems to exist in service of the book), there are a lot of different story threads and re-occurring interview subjects throughout. Ultimately, though, this is a film about Lauren Greenfield. The credits reveal that four editors worked on this film- no surprise, considering that the cut demonstrates every evidence of a challenge in flow and focus.
Despite that, Generation Wealth holds together well enough, very much getting by on the strength of its own assortment of its colorful and admittedly unsettling super-rich characters and faux-wealthy wannabes, and their stories. Excess, excess, excess, and the fallout of their unquenchable material appetites.
The crux of the documentary is Greenfield revisiting select former subjects of her body of work. Individuals featured then and now include German hedge fund bandit Florian Homm, former porn star Kacey Jordan (player in the Charlie Sheen scandal), a Wall Street businesswoman and plastic surgery mavin, the grown son of REO Speedwagon rock star Kevin Cronin, and the showbiz mom of child beauty pageant princess Eden Wood. A motley crew, to be sure, but the connecting threads are made apparent, if not always smooth.
The connective thread, if one must boil it down to one, is obsession: The obsession, even desperation for self-reinvention via wealth, be it real or fabricated. Closely tied in are issues of body image, fetishization, abandoned families, drug use, isolation and alienation. A grotesque array of gold-plated myopia. Yet, Generation Wealth is introspective enough to include its own maker in the mix.
Generation Wealth, at times, then, is a confessional that is both completely self-aware, yet also somehow frighteningly, willingly oblivious to the fact that it’s own creation is very much perpetuating the family issues of its creator. How strong is the correlation between the obsessive drive to create art that asks important questions versus the obsession for wealth, pleasure and status? Her own lifestyle in no way reflects the over-the-top opulence she’s chronicled. Her own body is, as her mother puts in an interview, of the short and round variety. When Greenfield goes to document the filthy rich, she approaches them as her fellow humans but then lets their startling self-reinventions speak for themselves. She identifies, though, with their drives to achieve, their unrelenting pushing of themselves.
Though made by a professional photographer, don’t expect Generation Wealth to exhibit any particular visual flourish. Apropos to Greenfield’s still works, many of which feature prominently in the film, there is, quite often, a certain garishness allowed into the frame, be it in the form of unremoved clutter, lack of color palate, or the occasional body horror/perversion that occupies her gaze. Visually, the documentary is almost stunningly unpleasant, regardless of who’s on screen.
Generation Wealth isn’t the comprehensive rundown of humankind’s obsessive drive that so easily gives way to personal disorder that it’s title implies. It works more effectively as a cataloging of Greenfield’s own career, and what that achievement has wrought- both in the lives of her subjects, and her own life.