Generation Wealth is billed at Sundance London as a documentary about the evolution of money and class over the last 25 years. At times, though, it feels like horror. Gifted photographer Lauren Greenfield offers a window into the world of this generation. For decades, Greenfield has been at the coal-face of luxury, excess, and debauchery from China to California, and the movie takes stock of her encounters over time. Generation Wealth is somewhere between a personal examination of the filmmaker’s relationship with the camera and an anthropological study of the terrors of cash.
This is a photographer’s film. The still images from Greenfield’s work sparkle with a grim glitziness, but the video footage of lust and avarice is as enthralling. There is a discomfort in all of this, in an audience’s quiet complicity in the deadly sins you sometimes see on screen. Still, Greenfield’s interest lies in characters and individuals as microcosms of worlds pushed to the limit: plastic surgery, sex work, professional ambition. Here, she draws out humanity, calamity and sometimes redemption. It is a head-spinning trip from the magnetism of high-flying lives to the loneliness of prisons and the rancour of families.
Greenfield should also be praised for the courage she has in turning the camera on herself and those that surround her. Caught up in a lifestyle of long absences and vicarious interests, the photographer asks whether she has been a captive of her own labours. This is a remarkably intimate narrative that bespeaks a genuine commitment to the theme – and it is elegantly woven in. Detailed reflections on Greenfield’s parenthood and family sit comfortably alongside big-picture musings on capitalism and the American dream.
There is an addictive quality to parts of this documentary. It draws you into the almost religious attitudes to money and superficiality but discomforts and disturbs in equal measure. Generation Wealth attempts to capture a sense of a society in decline, and though it wavers into moments of alarmism, its core themes and the profound artistic savvy of Lauren Greenfield cannot but speak for themselves.
Generation Wealth is released in select cinemas on 20th July 2018.
Watch the trailer for Generation Wealth here: