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Class warfare offers a rich canvas for big-screen drama

9:35 AM, Jul 18, 2012   |    comments
'Dark Knight Rises' trailer
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By Bryan Alexander, USA TODAY

"You think all of this can last?" the masked jewel thief Selina Kyle whispers to mega-wealthy Bruce Wayne in the trailer from The Dark Knight Rises. "There's a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. ... When it hits, you're all going to wonder how you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us."

Severe weather update: There is a 100% chance of an outpouring of French Revolution-style class revenge in movie theaters this weekend.

That's bad news for the one-percenters in the new Dark Knight, the documentary The Queen of Versailles and Farewell, My Queen-whose varied hardships make for compelling viewing for a recession-frustrated audience.

"Rich people falling is a much better story than poor people falling," says Benoît Jacquot, the writer/director of Farewell, My Queen, which is expanding to more theaters. "The greater the distance they fall, the better the show."

The French-language Farewell is set in the final days of the French Revolution, when fed-up peasants revolted and brought the King and his high-profile Queen, Marie Antoinette (played by Diane Kruger), to fatal meetings with the guillotine.

Antoinette may never have said the phrase most often attributed to her - "Let them eat cake" - but she was flamboyantly rich and powerful at a time when others were starving, and ended up paying for it.

"Marie Antoinette is all about Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," says UCLA European history professor Lynn Hunt. "She's one of the great celebrities of history - beautiful and frivolous.''

This spectacle of the rich falling from power is all over The Dark Knight Rises (opening midnight Thursday). Even decent rich guys like Wayne (Christian Bale) struggle as the sewer-dwelling Bane (Thomas Hardy) leads a revolt to snuff out the ruling class.

Director Christopher Nolan and screenwriter Jonathan Nolan said at a recent promo event that the final movie in the Batman trilogy was inspired by Charles Dickens' 1859 novel about the French Revolution, A Tale of Two Cities.

The book "was the most harrowing portrait of a relatable, recognizable civilization completely fallen to pieces," said Jonathan Nolan. "You knew the terrors in Paris and France in that period and it's hard to imagine that things can go that bad in the world. It was a great source of inspiration."

The documentary The Queen of Versailles (opening Friday) follows billionaire David Siegel and his former beauty queen third wife Jackie creating what would be the largest single-building house in America, at 90,000 square feet. Though located in Orlando, it's called Versailles, after the lavish center of French royal power until the revolution.

But the Florida couple, who enjoyed a staff of 19 and an ornate gold throne, ran into their own housing bubble-trouble, which drains David's time-share empire. The uncompleted mansion with the two-lane bowling alley, the two-story wine cellar, the 11 kitchens and 20-car garage was was put up for sale for $75 million.

"The rich are important to document because in a way they are under-represented (in documentaries)," says director Lauren Greenfield. "And we kind of idealize this kind of bling in our culture."

This hard look at the 1% will continue with Baz Luhrman's The Great Gatsby (Dec. 25) and Sundance-favorite Arbitrage (Sept. 14), which stars Richard Gere as a smooth-talking financier trying to keep his empire from falling apart under scandal.

"Shakespeare wrote about kings,'' notes Arbitrage director Nicholas Jarecki. "That's where the action is."

USA TODAY

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